Looking ahead to 2021
Tim Harwood, H21 Project Director
The closing weeks of 2020 have put a spotlight on hydrogen and taken the debate about the potential of a hydrogen gas network into the mainstream media with the publication of three key papers. Firstly Boris Johnson’s 10 point plan included a commitment to hydrogen production and the aim of heating a neighbourhood with hydrogen gas by 2023 and then an entire town, with tens of thousands of homes, by the end of the decade. This was quickly followed by the Climate Change Committees’ sixth carbon budget and most recently the Energy White Paper, which both committed to a role for hydrogen to tackle decarbonisation and create jobs in an emerging green economy.
It’s been brilliant to see the profile of hydrogen raised onto the national stage and becoming central to the decarbonisation debate. The H21 team has been working behind the scenes for a number of years doing the hard yards of scientific research and testing to make our dream of a hydrogen network become a reality. Our work is very much on-going and as we look ahead to 2021 H21 sees two exciting phases of work due to start. Firstly a hydrogen micro-grid, to represent a typical UK distribution network, is being purpose-built built at Spadeadam. The microgrid will link to three demonstration houses which feature hydrogen-ready boilers produced by leading manufacturers Baxi and Worcester Bosch. It was great to see the boilers featured on Sky News, as part of the coverage about the publication of the 10 point plan to raise awareness that hydrogen boilers now exist. They look and feel like the boilers we all use today meaning a conversion to hydrogen from natural gas could cause minimal disruption for customers.
The microgrid will be used to review, test and make recommendations to amend the operational and maintenance procedures required to operate a network on 100% hydrogen.
A new project led by National Grid and including Northern Gas Networks (NGN) as a partner will see a transmission grid built and linked to the microgrid during 2021 to create a whole beach to meter hydrogen system. Called FutureGrid, this new project was recently granted £9.07 million Network Innovation Competition funding from Ofgem.
The second phase of work will see 100% hydrogen trials on a section of the gas network in the South Bank area of Middlesbrough which will be disconnected from the existing gas network for the trial period. We’ve secured the lease of the site from Redcar and Cleveland Council and will carry out several months of rigorous testing of our operations and maintenance activities, practicing what we do every day but in a hydrogen world. We can’t wait to get going and we are working closely with the local council to get planning approved.
The site formally housed around 70 terraced homes and was deemed ideal for its likeness to a typical UK residential area. The houses were demolished around a decade ago but, as the underground network has since been untouched, the gas infrastructure and other utilities, along with the carriageways and footpaths remain intact. By doing these unoccupied trials we can take a step forward with our research moving out of test sites and into the public domain but in controlled and safe way.
Plans are now being developed for H21 Phase 3, a small-scale trial which if approved will take place in mid-2022. This would initially involve supplying 100% hydrogen to around 50 homes on a public gas network but could eventually be widened out to include several hundred homes. This will see the research undertaken over the past four years safely put into practice in a real life situation proving that conversion of existing gas networks to hydrogen can be done safely and with minimum disruption to customers, truly exciting times ahead!
We’re also awaiting more guidance from government with the publication of its hydrogen strategy expected early in 2021 so there is much to look forward to in the new year.