Hydrogen grid? Think about power – and gas – needs, says energy systems expert

Providing consumers with low-carbon heat will require major change even if the solution keeps some part of the existing gas infrastructure, Jeff Douglas, strategy manager at the Energy Systems Catapult, told New Power.

In a wide-ranging interview about the future of heat supply in the UK, Douglas considered some of the options under discussion to decarbonise heat. Debate has moved on from an all-electric heat future to a mix of solutions, and “There is no doubt we can repurpose parts of the gas network,” Douglas said. But that still involves major investment.

The option of converting the gas network to a hydrogen network has been proposed and large-scale trials are under way. But Douglas says the fundamental question is how to produce the hydrogen. There are two options, he explains.

“The most economic solution for producing hydrogen at the moment is methane reforming.” To meet UK network needs we would have to build more than the world’s current global reformation capacity in the UK – and met the process’s energy needs. It also means requires gas as feedstock to produce the hydrogen. At the moment the alternative is electrolysis. ”That would need a massive renewable energy resource  – we would need something like five London Arrays for [a city the size of] Birmingham. At the moment it is an expensive way of doing it and we would need [a bigger] electricity network,” Douglas said.

But Douglas thinks there is also an opportunity to save energy that is currently wasted – especially areas where the gas networks could be replaced with heat networks. He explains, “I can imagine that we are still going to be generating large amounts of electricity in the UK and that includes significant amounts of thermal generation, whether that is CCGTs or nuclear. As soon as you are generating thermally you are going around throwing away a huge amounts of heat huge amounts of energy. The heat network gives you a great opportunity to capture the benefits. In 2050 is it going to be acceptable to be throwing so much heat away to the atmosphere or to rivers in the way that we see as acceptable today? I don’t think it will be.”

New Power takes a ‘back of the envelope’ look at Jeff Douglas’s question


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