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UK public being ‘left behind’ in green energy discussion, Leeds Beckett University hydrogen study reveals

• 68% of public indifferent or undecided about clean energy solutions which would support climate change.
• Study shows energy customers would support a hydrogen gas network, providing questions on cost and safety are answered.
• Public want decisive action now, to reduce environmental impact and avoid outlay on obsolete appliances.

Cleaner hydrogen energy systems to heat homes across the UK would be supported by the public according to new research by Leeds Beckett University – but steps need to be taken to ensure customers aren’t left behind in green energy discussions.

The independent study was carried out as part of the H21 project, a UK gas industry programme focused on converting the existing gas grid to carry 100% hydrogen, in order to reduce carbon emissions from heating.

Because it contains no carbon element, hydrogen produces just heat and water when burned, making it a credible technology for greening the gas grid, and supporting the UK’s pledge to reach Net Zero emissions by 2050.

Led by the team at the university’s Sustainability Institute, School of the Built Environment and Engineering, the research involved surveying over 1,000 respondents and deliberative workshops held in three cities across the UK. These explored customer views on low carbon hydrogen, its use as a domestic fuel and potential role as a future energy source.

Findings showed there is strong support for the clean gas to play a role in the country’s future energy mix, with 20% of the public enthusiastic about a hydrogen gas network without needing further assurances.

Qualitative research from the workshops showed that customers were willing to accept a rise of up to 10% in their annual gas bill for the increase to support environmental benefits. Recent research published by Energy Networks Association found that if investment into zero carbon hydrogen infrastructure began today then bill payers would save £89bn by 2050.

However, customer acceptance was on the condition that a generous notice period would help customers to financially prepare for the cost of changing appliances, and clear direction on incentives supporting that transition would be provided.

But the largest proportion of those surveyed – 68% – were indifferent or undecided about low carbon energy technologies like hydrogen, and its potential to decarbonise the heat and transport the public rely on every day.

The research indicates this is largely because customers don’t know enough about hydrogen, are unconvinced that hydrogen is the right solution, or are simply not engaged with the topic.

Given clear information on which to make an informed choice, this section of the public would support hydrogen’s use in the gas network.

Dr Fiona Fylan, Reader in Sustainable Behaviour at Leeds Beckett University, who led the study said:

“The research showed that people are being left behind in discussions about future energy, as many did not appreciate that the gas they use to cook and heat their homes produces carbon emissions. When they realised this, there was tremendous support for converting to hydrogen. There were few concerns about safety, as there is trust in the networks and safety bodies to ensure a hydrogen network would be tested as robustly as the gas network in use today. Cost is a 

significant concern for people, although the concerns focus on the cost of new appliances rather than an increase on annual bills. People wanted a decision to be made as soon as possible and clear messages about what will happen and the environmental benefits that switching to hydrogen will bring.”

Today, over 83% of UK homes are connected to the gas network, and heat from both domestic heating and industry represents around a third of annual UK carbon emissions.

Repurposing the gas network to carry low and zero carbon gases helping to decarbonise heat, transport and industry lies at the heart of the Gas Goes Green programme.

Bringing together engineering expertise from the UK’s five gas distribution and transmission operators, Gas Goes Green is a blueprint to create the world’s first zero carbon gas network in the least disruptive and most cost-effective way.

The transition to a hydrogen network is one of the programme’s six key workstreams, with projects like H21 helping to inform next steps enabling this to be done.

Led by Northern Gas Networks, the gas distributor for the North, in collaboration with Cadent, SGN and Wales & West Utilities, H21 is delivering critical safety evidence to prove that a hydrogen gas network is as safe the natural gas network heating UK homes today.

H21 was granted £6.8 million of Ofgem NIC funding in 2019 for a second phase. Part of this will involve further social sciences research by Leeds Beckett University, to develop resources enabling customers to make informed choices on their future energy.

Mark Horsley, CEO of Northern Gas Networks, said:

“Customers must be brought along on this journey. As the UK works towards a low carbon energy future, customer choice and control over their energy forms an essential part of the picture. The Leeds Beckett University study is genuinely exciting work exploring a key part of the energy challenge which so far hasn’t been fully understood, and it’s clear there is still a lot of work to do. Hearing customer voices and understanding the areas where they require industry and government to deliver clear answers, is absolutely central to energy transition and will help to inform the next steps enabling a greener gas grid.”

The report can be downloaded here:

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