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End of Year Review By Tim Harwood H21 Project Director

During 2021, awareness of a possible hydrogen conversion has increased exponentially, largely thanks to the publication of the Government’s first Hydrogen Strategy in August and the Heat & Buildings Strategy in October.

The public has become more aware of the need to change the way homes are heated and the options which may be available as we drive towards decarbonising heat and meeting Net Zero by 2050.

The H21 team is proud to be leading the work to enable a safe conversion of the UK’s gas network to transport 100% hydrogen. Our work to date has given Government confidence to commit to heating a neighbourhood with hydrogen gas from 2023 and then an entire town, with tens of thousands of homes, by the end of the decade. A hydrogen village, comprising of 1,000 to 2,000 properties is planned to go live in 2025 and just last week Gas Distribution Networks submitted their initial bids to host the trials to the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and Ofgem. 

Over the past 12 months, the H21 project team continued to build more vital evidence about a 100% hydrogen conversion. The Health and Safety Executive’s Science Division (HSE-SD) has been vetting our procedures to see if they would be impacted by a 100% hydrogen network. At Spadeadam in Cumbria, DNV built a one kilometre, polyethylene MicroGrid to mirror a typical UK gas distribution network.  Since June, we’ve been using the MicroGrid to carry out those procedures the HSE-SD identified as being affected, including purging, venting and ignition sensitivity.  In a testing programme which will run until around April 2022, we are also using the MicroGrid to test operational and maintenance procedures including identifying and repairing leaks, planned procedures and emergency response to understand how gas distribution companies would manage and operate the network under 100% hydrogen conditions. 

Last spring we published the results from H21 phase one (see our summary video) Concluding that a hydrogen network can be as safe, or safer than today’s natural gas network, the report included information gathered from testing assets under 100% hydrogen conditions, a Quantitative Risk Assessment for a hydrogen gas network and the results of social science research to understand the public’s perception of a hydrogen conversion.

Earlier this year, we secured planning permission from Redcar and Cleveland Council to carry out 100% hydrogen trials on a disused gas network in the South Bank area of Middlesbrough which is disconnected from the existing network. Site preparations are almost complete and early in 2022 we’ll start several months of rigorous testing of our operations and maintenance activities on an existing gas network for the first time.  The South Bank project will see another first, as hydrogen is odourised to smell the same as natural gas for the first time.

During 2022, following over five years of exhaustive research, we’ll conclude the safety work in support of a hydrogen gas conversion and submit our reports to the Government, which has committed to make a decision about the future of the gas network around 2026.   Most excitingly, preparations in Fife, Scotland are underway to host the first neighbourhood trial of 100% hydrogen in 2023 with preparations progressing at pace over the coming year. The Fife project which will see customers use 100% hydrogen for the very first time has only been made possible from the extensive safety case built by the H21 team.    

Partners of H21