What is hydrogen?

A guide to hydrogen energy

For those who remember school science lessons, you’ll know hydrogen as the first element on the periodic table. Hydrogen itself is never found on its own, rather as part of more complex molecules, like water.

The great thing about hydrogen is that when it’s burned, it only produces water so there are no carbon gases released when hydrogen is used.  And it can be used for heat, power and even fuel for large vehicles like HGVs.  Hydrogen holds a lot of energy so it’s great for transporting large amounts of energy to where it’s needed.
 
But hydrogen isn’t found naturally on its own, it has to be made either through electrolysis or through reforming methane.  Both methods can be used in a way that keeps carbon emissions to a minimum.
 

With much of the UK looking to switch to greener, sustainable energy in the future, we’ve put together some important information to answer your hydrogen questions and explain how we’re playing our part to achieve the UK government's ambition of net zero by 2050.

The many uses of hydrogen: what is hydrogen used for?

When it comes to energy, hydrogen is one of the cleanest forms you can find; when it's burned or used in a fuel cell for a vehicle, the only by-product is water. This means that increased use of hydrogen as a fuel will mean cutting down on carbon emissions produced from conventionally used fossil fuels such as gas and coal. In fact, using a hydrogen fuel cell in an electric vehicle is two to three times more efficient than using a combustion engine.

Why hydrogen energy for the UK?

In 2019, the UK emitted 351.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the use of fossil fuels, accounting for 81% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.

It's widely accepted now that this needs to stop and soon. The way we heat our homes, run our vehicles and power our industries have all contributed to climate change. We're looking for solutions that balance environmental targets with customer needs.

In order to supply the increasing energy demands of the UK, we will need a combination of approaches. Renewable electricity from wind and solar can do a lot. But to reach 100% net zero we will certainly need hydrogen as well, alongside better insulated homes and smarter use of energy. We aim to see electricity and green gas working together in partnership.

Hydrogen energy in the home: HyDeploy

Around one third of the UK's CO2 emissions come from heat so it is crucial to reduce these by changing the way we heat our homes. 83% of UK households (around 11 million customers) are connected to the gas grid so we need to find a green alternative that doesn't disrupt customers.

HyDeploy is a pioneering hydrogen energy project, led by Cadent to help reduce UK CO2 emissions and provide hydrogen to homes across the UK. Since November 2019 it has been providing blended hydrogen to 100 ordinary homes on the Keele University campus. HyDeploy is successfully demonstrating that blending up to 20% volume of hydrogen with fossil gas is a safe and greener alternative to the gas we use now. And it’s doing this using customers’ existing appliances to keep any disruption to a minimum.

Heating our homes and fuelling our freight

In the near future, we are urging the government to introduce blended hydrogen across the UK for heating and cooking, so that we can start reducing emissions here. When we have done this, we should increase the amount of hydrogen until we get to 100% hydrogen and reduce emissions to a minimum. We're also working to convert HGVs and buses to run on hydrogen as that will improve air quality too.

100% HYDROGEN

Advantages of switching homes to hydrogen

But what are the positives of switching the national energy supply from gas to hydrogen power? Here are a few of the benefits  when it is powered by hydrogen:

  • Zero emissions

    As previously mentioned, perhaps the biggest benefit of using renewable hydrogen energy in your home is that you’ll be contributing to the reduction of carbon emissions in the UK. As the only emission from hydrogen power is water, your home will be heated with zero emissions. Boiler manufacturers are building hydrogen ready boilers now so that your next boiler can work on both natural gas and hydrogen.

  • Sourced from renewables

    Hydrogen can be made with electrolysis using renewable electricity from solar and wind power.  This energy can then be stored (unlike electricity) or piped to where it's needed.   

  • Better air quality

    Hydrogen fuel cells can be charged more quickly and go further than battery electric cells. They're also capable of fuelling larger vehicles like HGVs, buses and ferries and will bring better air quality at the same time.

  • Nothing changes

    If we move to using blended hydrogen to heat our homes you wouldn't actually notice any difference. Your home would still be heated by a boiler and you could still use the same appliances. Nothing in your everyday life would change.

What to keep in mind

To achieve net zero, most homes will need new or different heating systems as well being much better insulated with controls for energy use.  There are a number of options available including heat pumps, district heating systems, hybrid solutions and hydrogen. The Government has yet to set out how much of each is needed and where.

Every energy choice means change

Whatever the government decides to do about future energy choices, there will need to be a great deal of change eventually. Increasing the capacity of the electricity grid or building hydrogen production facilities are both large projects but the gain will be a sustainable future for us all.

What will the green recovery cost you?

How the investment we've talked about above is reflected in utility bills or income taxes is something that the Government will decide. It is clear, though, that this investment has to be made if we are to have a sustainable future.

We need ALL types of energy

Finding the right solution for a greener future is not a competition between electricity and gas. We will need both (and nuclear and other options) to supply customer needs and reach net zero. While renewable electricity will play a massive role, experts now agree that hydrogen will also be needed to get us to net zero.

Our Future of Gas projects

We are involved in projects looking at all aspects of using hydrogen in future - from billing and pipelines to blending and customer attitudes. 

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