“One of our Experts gives an insight into their visit to The Energy Centre at Thornton to hear more about recent developments in hydrogen.”
It was pleasing to see a packed room at the energy centre including some familiar faces from the UK energy and innovation sectors. Having personal involvement in RIIO-ll, it was a chance to see the Northwest of England putting pieces of the hydrogen jigsaw together and moving to deliver schemes which are effectively shovel-ready.
Developed by William Murdoch in the early days of the industrial revolution, the potential of hydrogen as a fuel was bypassed by cheap coal. Hydrogen can be produced by any number of means including by coal, gas (with a reforming and carbon dioxide producing process requiring capturing) and, going forward, by renewable energy.
Roll-out of the hydrogen economy in the region will initially involve carbon capture and storage, but beyond that, as the asset base for energy production in the industrial Northwest of England moves offshore it will evolve from the fossil-based ‘Blue’ hydrogen to renewables-generated ‘Green’ hydrogen.
Utilities have led the charge in offshore wind – which currently stands at 10GW installed – and are now being joined in the arena by global oil and gas majors. Hydrogen may offer a means to take overspill energy from offshore wind farms as we transition through fossil driven ‘Blue’ production to the renewable ‘Green’. The energy intensive electrolysis process can smooth natural peaks and troughs from a variable wind regime – and enable the offshore industry to go for dispatchable UK baseload electricity supply.
Delegates, ranging from researchers and academics to industrialists involved in delivering schemes, learned that the gas transmission network’s business case emerging from RIIO-II is now complete and hydrogen is integral to the consultation response. Should Ofgem prove supportive, there is a shared hope that a hydrogen economic opportunity, one with a global resonance, could take off in the region.
This economic opportunity could act as an enabler for manufacturing sectors to link together and allow economies of scale, perhaps in clusters – as in offshore wind – to enable a range of opportunities from those making canisters and buses to a new generation of domestic boilers thus ensuring the UK takes maximal advantage of the opportunity.
Today’s workshop highlighted how joined-up thinking can revive the UK’s manufacturing industry, which has dropped from 17% to 10% of the economy in the last 20 or so years. The remaining 10% is looking to decarbonize and hydrogen could offer a realistic route to meeting this and the UK’s climate commitments.
We learned that the concept of replacing methane with hydrogen had been well-received by industrialists and that the manufacturing industry is awaiting a reasonable network with which to connect.
The industry watched with interest the £800m the Chancellor made available to encourage CCS and a recognition that hydrogen is ready to compete with incumbent industries. Other exigencies are currently in the government’s mind, but a strategic vision is also sometimes required.
Findings from the hynet proposal and the year-old Keele hydeploy demonstrator may lead to the regulations being amended to allow hydrogen to become more widely embedded in the UK gas network.
Innovation continues apace with hydrogen; the development process will not necessarily be cheap but hopefully scalability will allow prices to fall and for it to become integral to the UK gas network within the next 20 years.
Hydrogen compatible boilers are already in place and industrial-scale hydrogen turbines are likely to be ready within the coming decade – let’s hope that’s here in the Northwest. Thornton is rapidly becoming the incubation hub for renewable energy and cleantech for the UK and it’s especially pleasing that some of the SMEs, and entrepreneurs based there and with whom I so regularly engage are making substantial progress.