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Hydrogen to be pumped into main gas pipeline by 2025

National Grid
National Grid

Hydrogen is to be pumped into Britain's main gas pipeline by 2025 as part of a scramble to ditch fossil fuels and move to net zero.

Between 2pc and 5pc of the fuel flowing through the country's transmission network will be hydrogen in two years under plans drawn up by National Gas, which owns the pipelines.

The blending would be the first step in plans to convert the network so that it can be filled entirely with hydrogen by 2050, as part of a national overhaul to cut carbon emissions.

Jon Butterworth, chief executive of National Gas, said: “What we’re trying to achieve is to make sure there’s a balanced response to energy.

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“On a winter’s day, you’ve got seven times more energy going through the gas network than the electricity network. 

“We’ve got to look at ways to decarbonise that, while making sure that industry is still provided for – that businesses have the gas they need.

“So we are transferring slowly into hydrogen – we’re going to repurpose our system slowly over time into hydrogen, for the areas that can’t be electrified.”

National Gas’s 4,700-mile transmission network moves gas, piped in from drilling fields or shipped in from abroad, under high pressure to different areas around the UK, where it is then picked up by smaller distribution networks and taken on to homes and businesses.

It is now majority owned by a consortium led by Macquarie, the Australian bank, after National Grid sold its 60pc stake in January in order to focus on electricity.

Operators of gas distribution networks are also working on plans which would allow them to blend up to 20pc hydrogen into natural gas in their pipelines from 2024.

However, blending hydrogen into the transmission network from the outset would be a bigger step, embedding hydrogen into the system.

Hydrogen has been used in the network before, as a major part of the “town gas”, made from coal which was widely used in Britain in the 1960s before being replaced with natural gas after reserves were discovered in the North Sea.

However, hydrogen is making a comeback in the push to tackle global warming, as it does not produce carbon emissions when burned. Politicians hope it can replace fossil fuels where using renewable electricity instead is too difficult, such as shipping or heavy trucks.

Hydrogen is also being considered as a replacement for natural gas in power stations, where it can be used to fill in gaps in power supplies on still days when wind turbines are not spinning.

The extent to which it will be needed is still uncertain, however, with particular question marks over its use in home heating, given the rising number of installations of electric heat pumps. 

Household boilers that can run on 100pc hydrogen are not yet on the UK market. National Gas says homes can receive natural gas blended with up to 20pc hydrogen without having to change their appliances, though the blending plans still need regulatory approval.

Hydrogen is currently a fairly niche product in the UK. Clean production, which involves splitting hydrogen from natural gas and capturing the carbon dioxide left behind, or extracting it from water using green electricity, will have to rapidly increase if it is to be used more widely.

The Government is facing a backlash over plans to subsidise hydrogen production via a levy on energy bills from 2025. The Tory peer Lord Lilley, who sits on the Lord's Environment and Climate Change Committee, told The Telegraph it was a “double insult” to ask households to pay for “something they will never receive”.

Will Webster, energy policy manager for the oil and natural gas trade body Offshore Energies UK, said that support is generally needed during the start-up phase for any new industry.

He added: “You can have a discussion about the suitable source, but we are talking about transforming the whole economy - it doesn’t happen just on its own.”

Mr Butterworth said: “We want to make sure that we have capability to put hydrogen right through our system.

“So that businesses can continue to do what they do, where they're situated, and customers have choice.

“If you live in a flat in London, or Manchester, or wherever, and you can't electrify because there's nowhere to put an air source heat pump, or you haven't got room to put a hot water boiler in your flat, then we want to make sure we give customers choice.”