How hydrogen could help us to reach net zero

How hydrogen could help us to reach net zero

Joanna Ferguson – NGN – Innovation

The UK has committed to a target of net zero by 2050 – and the energy sector has been identified as one of the key areas that will enable us to reduce our carbon footprint. While there has been much focus on transforming our electricity system with the help of renewables, it’s important that we don’t forget that our gas networks can make an equally valuable contribution to our net zero goal.

As a nation, we used 450TWh of gas last year in the UK1. Finding ways to reduce carbon and move on from pure natural gas could be a really efficient way to make good use of our existing underground infrastructure, while also prioritising consumer needs and driving sustainability. If we can make it work well, it represents an important alternative to the electrification of heat.

Our hopes for hydrogen

One of the most exciting projects that I’m currently focused on at Northern Gas Networks is the Ofgem-funded innovation project, HyDeploy, which aims to prove that blending up to 20% hydrogen with natural gas can provide us with a greener alternative which is as safe as the gas we currently use.

Naturally, in the beginning the major focus must be on the technical solution itself. Together with Cadent, we’ve been conducting trials within a private network initially, which has allowed us to be very controlled in terms of testing all manner of different variables, from the impact on consumer appliances to reviewing the impact to metering and potential cost implications.

Satisfied that we’ve gathered some robust and insightful learnings from the private network trial, our next step is to conduct trials within specific sections of public networks, initially within our own NGN network and subsequently within Cadent’s network. This is where it’s vital that we work closely with Xoserve to ensure we can carefully manage the project, prevent any adverse impacts to domestic consumers and collaborate with other stakeholders that might be affected.

Calculating calories, costs and control

One of the big areas that must be considered in introducing hydrogen to the gas mix is the impact to calorific value (CV). The CV drops when hydrogen is blended in, which means that more gas must be used to get the same amount of energy at the point of use. We have therefore trialled different blends containing different levels of hydrogen to optimise the output without incurring excessive cost, with 20% hydrogen currently coming out as the most favourable option from a lab perspective.

It’s been vital for us to engage with Xoserve when it comes to live network testing. Most importantly, we need their support in assessing how the introduction of hydrogen and differing calorific values will work from a commercial settlement perspective across all of the parties involved, whilst minimising the cost impact to end consumers.

On a very practical level, we also need their support in identifying precisely which meters and stakeholders are going to be impacted during the trials. Control is essential within these trials. We do contact all of the households that fall within the area specified so that they are aware it’s taking place, but it’s vital that we work closely with the shippers and retailers that are also affected and have responsibility for those households. We have to make sure the settlement stays “whole”, so we rely on Xoserve to run data lists and reports for us to make sure that we are managing communication across all parties in the most effective way, putting consumers’ needs first.

 Plenty of potential

There’s great opportunity to scale up within the UK’s existing gas infrastructure, so learning as much as we possibly can from these trials is essential to identifying a long-term and sustainable solution. We still have long periods of testing to undergo, and our relationship with Xoserve and the data service they provide to us is so important in enabling our plans and projects to run smoothly.

Going forward, the Data Discovery Platform will be really valuable to us as we’ll be able to access the data we need directly, rather than submitting data requests. This is a far more efficient approach and also allows us to constantly monitor any changes within each trial group, giving us greater control and responsiveness within the project.

A look to the future

The UK has an enormous challenge ahead to realise our ambitions to be net zero by 2050 – but it is an ambition that we are fully behind at Northern Gas Networks. Much of the carbon reduction is set to come from the energy industry and I’m excited about the contribution that can be made within the gas sector specifically.

Initiatives such as HyDeploy have huge potential and by developing close relationships across the industry and robust proofs of concepts, we stand to make a significant difference – together.