BLOG: Net Zero Domestic Heat is postponed but still very much on its way

Andy Lewis, Cadent Project Manager for HyDeploy at Keele University, uses the lockdown to take stock of where we’ve got to, how we got there and where we’re going next.

Since I first headed to Keele University back in early 2016 to ask them if they would be interested in becoming involved in a hydrogen project, things have moved on at a great pace both in terms of the project, for hydrogen in general and for the UK’s commitment to combat climate change.

Back in those very early days I had to explain to Keele that I hadn’t quite worked out who would be involved in the project or how we would do it, but to please bear with me. When they agreed to become involved, probably more out of interest than any great expectation at that point, I knew I had achieved a major milestone as the emerging project now had a home! The project consortium was then swiftly assembled; we bid for funding from Ofgem and were successful.  Hey presto ‘HyDeploy’ was an official project in 2017.

Since then the project and the consortium have moved from strength to strength. We managed to get a huge body of scientific evidence and research approved by the HSE which demonstrated that what we planned to do at Keele was completely safe.  We progressed into a build on site in 2019 and started to put blended hydrogen into the Keele network in the latter part of 2019 before announcing it officially at the start of 2020. On top of this we have received another c.£15m from Ofgem to complete two further trials, one in the North East and one in the North West. This is all a reflection of the dedication and hard work of the team that I am very proud to be part of. At the start of the year the team was rightly very pleased with progress and looking forward to the lead up to COP26 and some major announcements in the hydrogen space.

During this period, the HyDeploy project team has rolled through some fairly seismic moments – Brexit, a couple of landmark elections, the Trump Presidency and more than our fair share of hot, wet and cold weather mixed in for good measure. All of this, despite their relative importance and in the case of the weather, a potential hazard, have not impacted upon the project.  But the same, unfortunately, cannot be said for COVID 19. Due to clear government guidelines and our responsibility to keep movement to an absolute minimum, we have decided unanimously to temporarily cease blending at the Keele site with an expectation to start again once we are out of the crisis we find ourselves in today. Clearly ceasing operations at Keele is disappointing, but we are confident that we will restart blending and be in a position to share our results and reopen our tours when the outlook is hopefully more settled.

HyDeploy has been all about making those first steps on the road to net zero using hydrogen.  You’ll remember that it aims to prove that up to 20% hydrogen can be safely blended with natural gas to reduce domestic heat CO2 emissions by 6 million tonnes – that’s the equivalent of taking 2.5m cars off the road.  Often these first small steps are the hardest but nonetheless an initial pathway has been cleared and it is starting from Keele. 2020 may not shape up to be the year we had hoped for but clearly there are more pressing matters at play currently for the UK and for Cadent and NGN as we look to keep the gas flowing.  We will still aim to keep people engaged through our forthcoming webinar in May (find out more here) and to reopening the Keele site when the situation allows but for now the focus must be on looking after ourselves and our loved ones.  The HyDeploy team looks forward to catching up soon and continuing our journey with that wonderful little molecule called hydrogen!