Hydrogen research at Newcastle University

Net zero, the target of being carbon neutral by 2050, requires us to stop releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

Heating including domestical and industrial processes, is the largest contributor of carbon emissions in the UK and responsible for 37% of emissions. Thus one of the most important things to decarbonise is how we heat our homes.

Our Approach

Currently, 74% of homes in the UK are heated by natural gas. Replacing natural gas with low-carbon hydrogen is a potential way to decarbonise heating. This would involve converting the existing gas networks to carry hydrogen. However, it is not possible to do this yet – a lot of research and trials must be completed first. The government has set a target for a neighbourhood trial by 2023, a village scale trial by 2025 and (hopefully) a hydrogen heated town by 2030. Using results from these trials, the government aims to decide regarding the repurposing of the gas network in 2026.

 

To help with this, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), now the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) ran a consultation called “Hydrogen for heat: facilitating a grid conversion hydrogen heating trial.” They asked stakeholders how the government could change legislation to allow the village trial to take place. They received 18 written responses in total, including a response from HI-ACT Director Professor Sara Walker, Newcastle University.

 

Newcastle University is at the forefront of hydrogen research, exploring the technical, economic, and societal aspects of hydrogen.
Along with leading on HI-ACT, Newcastle University champions a whole-systems approach to hydrogen research. The ESPRC funded National Centre for Energy Systems Integration (CESI) brought together energy experts to develop flexible, smart energy infrastructure. With partners Northern Gas Networks and Northern Powergrid, they have established InTEGReL, an integrated whole energy systems development and demonstration facility, funded by the government. The facility aims to break down barriers between sectors for a more secure, low carbon energy system, with a project focused on housing decarboniszation.

Following on from CESI, the HI-ACT hub will begin to address the integration challenges of hydrogen that are needed to be addressed for an effective hydrogen economy to be scaled-up. The HI-ACT hub’s vision is to ensure that hydrogen is appropriately integrated in a future equitable energy system, through holistic multi-disciplinary research, to deliver a fundamental shift in critical analysis of the role of hydrogen and alternative liquid fuels in the context of the overall energy landscape.

The University was able to draw on this work produced by CESI and from findings during HI-ACT 6-month consultancy phase when creating our response. The main author of the response was Professor Sara Walker, who worked closely with the strategic communications company WA Comms, policy and industry experts in the process. Our response was an important addition to the consultation, with several proposals being referenced in the final report.

Newcastle provided answers to questions:

1) List the major activities necessary to set up, run, and conclude a grid conversion trial, to ensure that premises and the gas distribution network are ready to use hydrogen for heating.
4) Which aspects of a grid conversion trial could lead to consumers being treated unfairly or not being protected?
5) Which of the consumer protections listed on p.14 are necessary to ensure that energy consumers are protected in a grid conversion trial? Please explain why they are necessary
6) Are there other consumer protections not set out on p.14 which it would be necessary to implement? If so, please explain why they are important.
7) How should each of the consumer protections you have listed in response to questions 5 and 6 be implemented?

  • In Newcastle’s answer to question 4, particular focus was given to protecting consumer’s rights to switch suppliers. It could be considered unfair that individuals could not “opt-out” of the trial, as everyone within the village would have to transition from natural gas to hydrogen. To mediate this, the government recognised that consumers their right to switch suppliers should be protected, and that the billing and payment process is no more complicated than current arrangements.
  • In response to question 5, Newcastle strongly believed that no consumers in the trial area should be financially disadvantaged because of the trial taking place. In the answer, research was referenced which showed that cost is consistently a high priority for energy consumers, and that some consumers have less capacity for involvement in innovation. In response the government ensured that no one participating in the trial would be financially disadvantaged from taking part, including installation and maintenance of new systems and appliances in homes. They also recognised that consumers should not pay more for hydrogen than natural gas and would be working with the gas networks to achieve this.

Our Conclusions

Finally, Newcastle proposed that all data collected during the trial should be anonymised to protect consumers, and that agreements on access to data should be clearly outlined prior to the trial. In response, the government strategy will include a section on how consumers data will be used and protected.

Given Newcastle’s ethos of inclusivity and fairness, we are pleased that our response contributed to the governments understanding in such a positive way. The University are also continuing its important work in Hydrogen research and will continue to work with key stakeholders to conduct research and disseminate the findings. We are also working to make our research findings more accessible to the public and will soon be starting a hydrogen podcast series to introduce more people to the research being conducted by HI-ACT.

Who is behind HI-ACT?

Find out more about the team behind this ambitious project