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The DGA Roadshow 2021

The role of hydrogen and becoming a net zero nation

The role of hydrogen and becoming a net zero nation cover image

By Chris Barron, Director of gas networks at Costain and Chair of the Decarbonised Gas Alliance.

Addressing climate change is the biggest challenge we will face in our lifetime – and everyone has a role to play.

Through my role as chair of the Decarbonised Gas Alliance, I’ve had the privilege of seeing first-hand the role hydrogen will play in decarbonising the country.

Hydrogen – like many other decarbonised gases – can help us meet the UK’s ever-pressing need for net zero climate emissions, at low cost, with minimal disruption, while creating thousands of sustainable jobs across the country.

It has a particularly valuable role to play in the notoriously hard to decarbonise sectors – heavy transport, industry, and heat. As a nation, we rely heavily on these industries, but they account for over 40% of UK greenhouse gases.

The future needs investment

Decarbonising energy is, by its very nature, a major challenge. Achieving net zero to meet the government target of 2050 will require a major programme of infrastructure investment in clean energy production – particularly green gas and energy networks – as the UK transitions away from its reliance on fossil fuels.

It’s no use waiting for someone else to lead the way, though. The global climate emergency requires immediate actions – as there isn’t a ‘silver bullet’ solution to the crisis. Both renewable power generation and green gases, such as hydrogen and biomethane will need to be deployed, at scale, as soon as possible.

To make this a reality, though, the consistent message from industry has been clear funding models and incentives. Without this, there is too much risk associated with investing in and supporting new technology in an emerging market. The classic ‘chicken and egg’ scenario.

The energy transition will require clear, unambiguous commercial frameworks to be developed to entice investment from the private sector, accelerating and providing the funding mechanisms for ‘first mover’ projects, streamlining of the planning constraints that add time to project schedules, and investment from Ofgem to allow gas and electric networks to transport decarbonised energy to consumers.

The second key area for discussion is, inevitably, around choice. Consumers need this if they are to participate in the sustainability agenda and net zero future – and we must ensure optionality and personal choice for consumers to decide upon the source of low carbon energy to suit their lifestyles and individual preferences.  

Of course, without the infrastructure in place, there will never be the demand for sustainable and net zero products and services. Infrastructure funding, therefore, should be made available for hydrogen and biomethane refuelling stations for transport – buses and trucks in particular – rail and port bunkering facilities for hydrogen or ammonia ships.

While the UK has made substantial progress in decarbonising the generation of electricity, in other sectors emissions have barely budged. We have identified three industries that are particularly difficult to tackle, and where decarbonised gas could play a substantial part.

Change is already afoot

Trailblazing examples of innovation can already be found throughout the UK, and not solely on Costain’s own projects.

Take Northern Gas Networks' Hydrogen House – the UK's first home to feature 100% hydrogen gas appliances – and Equinor's Hydrogen-to-Humber (H2H) Saltend project as two pioneering examples.

Pilkington UK – together with HyNet and HyDeploy – recently shared the news that its Greengate site in St Helens has undertaken two innovative demonstrations of using hydrogen to replace natural gas in powering the furnace. Each day during the trial, two tonnes of hydrogen were consumed – which could have provided an equivalent hydrogen blend to approximately 30,000 average-sized homes.

Elsewhere, Welsh Water – which announced its net zero by 2040 target earlier this year – shared details of its feasibility work to produce up to 2,000 kg per day of renewable bio-hydrogen at the site – enough to support a fleet of 100 hydrogen buses.

Through innovation, collaboration, and greater public awareness throughout the regions, hydrogen can play a role in safely, quickly, and cost-effectively decarbonising UK infrastructure – providing the country with a stable pathway to net zero emissions.