Positive results from the UK’s first grid-injected hydrogen pilot

Future of energy

  • Gas appliances and the network functioning normally on a hydrogen/natural gas blend at ground-breaking UK hydrogen pilot
  • Customers positive about being part of the UK’s first project to inject zero carbon hydrogen into a modern gas grid
  • Results bode well for a public pilot project later this year North East England
  • Results so far find a blend of hydrogen/natural gas blend can cut CO2 emissions without the need to change gas appliances
 
The UK’s first live pilot to inject zero carbon hydrogen into a gas network to heat homes is yielding positive results and shedding light, for the first time, on the views of those using the gas.
 
HyDeploy, now well into its pilot period, is a ground-breaking green energy demonstration that is supplying a blend of up to 20% hydrogen by volume with natural gas to 130 homes and faculty buildings at Keele University in Staffordshire.
 
The project is demonstrating that a blend of up to 20% hydrogen can reduce climate-damaging carbon emissions from heating the nation’s homes, while at the same time enabling customers to use their gas supply as normal, without any changes needed to gas appliances or pipework.
 
Results so far show that gas appliances using the blend are functioning normally and householders and campus businesses haven’t noticed any differences to their gas supply.
 
Backed by Ofgem’s Network Innovation Competition, the £7 million project is led by gas distributor Cadent in partnership with Northern Gas Networks, Keele University, HSE Research and Consultancy, integrated hydrogen energy systems manufacturer ITM-Power, and independent clean energy company Progressive Energy.
 
 Ed Syson, Chief Safety and Strategy Officer for Cadent, said: “The results of this live demonstration of hydrogen blending reflect the results we were getting from laboratory testing before the pilot began. The gas network and gas appliances are operating normally and customers are positive about the project. They haven’t noticed any difference to their gas supply and haven’t needed to change the way they use gas.
 
“This is great news. It bodes well for the public hydrogen blending trial in the North East, which starts later this year, and for a potential national roll-out of blending in the future.”
 
Mark Horsley, Chief Executive Officer for Northern Gas Networks, said: “The Keele demonstration is such an important stepping stone, not only from a technical perspective but also in terms of customer support and acceptance for hydrogen as a low carbon technology.
 
“There is a genuine excitement from customers around being part of pioneering pilots such as HyDeploy, and we’re very eager to build on this enthusiasm for the public demonstration in Winlaton later this year.”
 
The project, which paused hydrogen blending during the Covid-19 lockdown, is now making  preparations to resume blending.
 
The project is also shedding light, for the first time in the UK, on the views of those using a hydrogen blend in their homes. Professor Zoe Robinson, of Keele University, is leading research into the perceptions of hydrogen blending among residents taking part in the pilot.
 
“Social acceptance is a key part of technical energy transitions,” explained Professor Robinson, “the Keele demonstration provides an ideal opportunity to learn from customers experiencing a hydrogen blend in their own home. One of the learning points from our research so far is that evaluating the opinions of people taking part in this type of project is important, both for increasing our knowledge of the project but also for making those people feel valued.
 
“Energy pilot projects like this shouldn’t just be viewed as technical exercises– the human perspective is important and will be increasingly so if such projects are rolled out more widely.”
 
The research is split into two phases. The first phase is evaluating the views of people in the run-up to the demonstration project starting. The second phase of research will be carried out later this year and will explore customers’ views since the project has been underway.
 
The research so far shows that the majority of participants are supportive of the project, with some genuine excitement about being part of it. People value the environmental benefits of the project and appreciate the minimal disruption to their lives and the minimal effort required to ‘do something good.’
 
The research demonstrated that some participants wanted reassurance about safety and cost implications. One-to-one communications with members of the project team, through drop-in sessions, helped address concerns, while there was also an implicit trust that the project would be safe.
 
There were varied attitudes towards cost implications, with several participants mentioning this as an area of initial concern for the future, although those taking part in the pilot project are not being charged for the hydrogen.
 
Communication was also found to be an important aspect of the project, with access to different forms of communication important to reassure those people receiving hydrogen blends in their homes. Regular communication and updates for residents throughout the project was highlighted as a key lesson for future pilot projects.
 
Heating for domestic properties and industry accounts for half of the UK’s energy consumption and one third of its carbon emissions, with 83% of homes using gas to keep warm.
 
When burned, hydrogen creates heat without carbon dioxide. The Committee on Climate Change has determined that the use of hydrogen in our energy system is necessary in order to reach Net Zero.
 
If a 20% hydrogen blend was rolled out across the country it could save around 6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year, the equivalent of taking 2.5 million cars off the road. Hydrogen blending at this level could also open the door to greater use of hydrogen – possibly up to 100% in the network – and kick off a low-carbon hydrogen economy in the UK.
 
The hydrogen at Keele is produced by an electrolyser. The electrolyser, produced by the UK based hydrogen energy solutions provider ITM Power, uses an electrical current to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.
 
In 2018 the HSE granted the HyDeploy consortium an exemption to the current limit of 0.1% hydrogen in the UK gas network. The exemption to 20% hydrogen for the project at Keele was awarded after the project gathered extensive evidence, which was scrutinised by the HSE, to demonstrate the hydrogen blend would be ‘as safe as natural gas’. A similar approach was used to allow the first bio-methane producers to inject biogas into the natural gas network.
 
Gas safety checks were carried out in the homes and buildings in the trial area. Laboratory tests were carried out on a range of gas appliances, as well as extensive research on the effect of hydrogen on the different materials found in the gas network and the appliances.
 
Key learning was shared between international projects who are also trialling hydrogen blends. HSE Research and Consultancy has been overseeing all  technical and safety aspects of HyDeploy at the HSE Science and Research Centre at Buxton in Derbyshire.
 
Keele University was viewed as the perfect location, owning and operating its own private gas network, which could be safely isolated from the wider UK gas network. The University is working with businesses, academics and graduates to create Europe’s first ‘at scale’ multi-energy-vector Smart Energy Network Demonstrator  (SEND) – where new energy-efficient technologies can be researched, developed and tested in a real world environment.
 
Fast facts
  • Heating homes and industry accounts for nearly half of all energy use in the UK and one third of the country’s carbon emissions.
 
  • Hydrogen was a major component in ‘town gas’, gas created from coal and used widely throughout Britain before the discovery of North Sea gas in the 1960s. Up to 60% of the gas (by volume) being used by consumers was hydrogen.
 
  • Across Europe, permitted levels of hydrogen in the gas supply vary, from 0.1% in the UK to up to 12% in parts of the Netherlands
 
To find out more visit www.hydeploy.co.uk.
 

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