Ed Syson, Chief Strategy & Safety Officer at Cadent looks back on the hydrogen journey so far ahead of this week’s hydrogen showcase event.
In preparing for this event, I’ve been looking back a little on the hydrogen journey so far. I’ve been struck by how much has developed positively in such a short time but I’m of course also aware of how much there is still to do.
When the carbon reduction targets for 2050 were first set by the Government, many people assumed that existing technologies and infrastructure would have no role to play in our future energy market. Certain types of energy are deemed to be ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’, efficient or inefficient, and it can be a challenge to change these views sometimes.
Cadent, and our colleagues in other Gas Distribution Networks, believe that there is a future role for gas delivered by our pipelines, it’s simply a different – greener – gas in the form of Hydrogen. We believe that the gas network – worth billions of pounds – should continue to provide value for our country. We’re working with Northern Gas Networks and Progressive Energy to test a hydrogen blend in a domestic setting and so far the signs are very encouraging.
Our thinking has developed too, as we’ve realised the wider potential offered by a network of hydrogen across the UK. A natural bi-product of doing this is that it can be used to reduce emissions from other heavy contributors such as industry and the transport sector. That’s what HyMotion is all about – enabling the transition to Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles including trains, buses and cars, alongside other electric vehicles.
Another significant change is that now so many more people realise that the UK’s future green energy needs can only be met by a combination of several options – one size does not fit all. Heating our homes, for example, is taken care of in more than 85% of UK households by networked gas. It’s trusted (and taken for granted) by so many of us without a second thought – it just works. Gas delivered through a network is unique in its ability to respond instantly to sudden spikes in demand; we simply increase the flow. Electricity just can’t do this easily and to make it behave in this way would take huge investment. Better to respect the natural strengths of each and use them in the right way.
Electricity (and don’t forget, a large percentage of the UK’s electricity is currently generated by burning gas) is great for powering our lights and the electronic devices we rely on. Wind, solar and bio-methane are also going to play a part.
I feel that we still have some work to do to ensure that Hydrogen is in people’s minds as part of the future energy plans for Britain, particularly networked hydrogen as that is where the economies of scale in distribution will come. Our policy makers and our colleagues across the energy sector must bear in mind that it’s not a competition, it’s a collaboration to find the best energy mix for the country – best in terms of low carbon, cost effectiveness and acceptable impact on customers. And regarding customers, I believe it’s time we brought them into the conversation more to ensure they are informed and positive about hydrogen and the choices that it offers them. They can become ambassadors for us, with their MPs and their networks, promoting a choice that means less disruption for them and more environmental benefits for their families. rs
The HyNet project in the North West is a fascinating opportunity that we have to make a reality in order for the full potential of a hydrogen economy – alongside other energies – to be seen.