Ofgem has announced the winners of its annual Network Innovation Competition. A total of £57.5 million was awarded to seven projects to fund the development and demonstration of new technologies. One of the winners, Northern Gas Networks (NGN), will examine whether gas networks in Great Britain can safely transport 100% hydrogen gas. The project, known as H21, will receive £9 million to carry out controlled tests prior to the transition of the Leeds network to be able to transport hydrogen gas. Together with additional funding from the UK Gas Distribution Networks, this will enable NGN to build upon last year’s project that found that the conversion is both technically possible and economically viable. The advantage of burning hydrogen for heating and hot water is that it emits zero carbon at the point of use. At present, 20% of our carbon emissions are from heating and hot water, which means that the decarbonisation of heat plays an important part in meeting the UK’s 2050 energy target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gases. Various approaches are being taken to reduce emissions from heat, with the use of hydrogen being just one of them. Another example is the injection of green gas into the grid, where it mixes with the existing natural gas to reduce the overall environmental impact. The Non-Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive provides support for this process in the form of a subsidy for the production of biomethane for injection.
Ofgem has said that converting the gas networks to be 100% hydrogen has the potential to provide the biggest single contribution to decarbonisation. However, a credible government policy decision on the decarbonisation of heat will not be possible without the critical safety information that this stage of the H21 research project will provide. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has also announced a programme called “Downstream of the Meter,” which will consider the logistical requirements of using hydrogen in buildings. The two projects will collectively provide all the safety-based evidence required to progress to a live trial and subsequent policy decisions.