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News from the UK Power Industry 18th June 2019

Posted by: James Turner
Industry News

UK positions hydrogen to replace natural gas to heat homes

Leading engineers have said that it is possible to safely replace natural gas with hydrogen for domestic and industrial energy use.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) led a study which included the Health and Safety Laboratory and engineering institutions for Chemical Engineers, Mechanical Engineers, and Gas Engineers and Managers. They were tasked by the UK government to assess the engineering risks and uncertainties around using hydrogen in homes, businesses and industry, and they have now published the results of their investigations in a research study.

Dr Robert Sansom of the IET said: “We are now in a position to seriously consider the viability of using hydrogen in the UK’s gas grid for homes and businesses, which could significantly contribute to the decarbonization of the UK’s energy sector.”

In the UK, natural gas accounts for 85% of domestic heating and cooking, more than 50% of energy consumed by industry, and 40% of Britain’s electricity.

The study stresses that “the key feature of hydrogen is that when combusted it produces no carbon emissions and is therefore a low carbon alternative to natural gas”.

Dr Sansom said: “Hydrogen has not been deployed at scale anywhere in the world and so any proposal will need to compensate for this lack of experience. We know hydrogen produces no carbon emissions when burned, but it is also important to fully investigate and understand the overall environmental impact a switch to hydrogen is likely to make.”

He stressed that “it is fundamental that these areas as well as others identified in the report are comprehensively addressed before a programme of large-scale deployment is considered”.

The report highlights that one of the benefits of hydrogen is its ability to be produced in large volumes from natural gas using a process called gas reforming. However, a by-product of this process is carbon dioxide and the study calls for a committed infrastructure plan for carbon capture, utilisation and storage. 

The report points out that while hydrogen can also be produced using electrolysis, at present, this is less suited for producing large volumes of hydrogen and costs are currently higher.

Dr Sansom acknowledged that a switch to hydrogen was ambitious. “To make a significant contribution to meeting the UK’s 2050 carbon reduction target, the transition to hydrogen would need to be implemented over the next 30 years,” he said. “This may seem a long time – but in terms of the infrastructure required and millions of homes and businesses affected, it is relatively short. Action is required now and we hope that our findings and subsequent recommendations can make a significant contribution to advancing the decarbonization of the UK.” Full story.

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Government urged to overturn offshore wind ban to reach 2050 target

Some of Europe’s largest energy investors have urged the government to overturn an effective ban on new onshore wind farms in England, warning that it may be stifling a flood of investment into the UK’s clean energy sector.

Under current rules only offshore wind farms can compete for government contracts in subsidy auctions.

Peter Dickson, a partner at Glennmont Partners, which manages Europe’s largest ever clean energy fund, is among those urging the government to change its stance. He said if the UK is serious about climate crisis target “policymakers must encourage all forms of renewable power generation.”

The calls to back an onshore wind renaissance reignited following prime minister Theresa May’s decision earlier this week to legislate a net zero carbon target for 2050.

Onshore wind is expected to be cheaper than gas-generated electricity because of plummeting turbine technology costs and the rising cost of carbon emissions, according to the report.

An onshore wind boom could also treble the number of jobs supported by the sector to 31,000 and boost exports to £360m a year by 2035.

Dickson said: “Investors we speak with are increasingly viewing fossil fuel-based generation plant as stranded assets and are looking for opportunities to divest into new technologies that help to tackle climate change.”

Alan Whitehead, the shadow minister for energy and climate change, said: “Onshore wind is a win-win-win. It reduces reliance on imported fuels, reduces energy prices for households and reduces carbon. It is simply economically illiterate not to go for onshore wind in a big way. The government should remove their barriers to onshore wind and engage communities to get it built.” Full story.

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