Hydrogen has the potential to play a role in the decarbonisation of heat, power, and industry. Repurposing the NTS will minimise disruption, and potentially cost, for customers and consumers when developing a hydrogen NTS.
The project will involve building a hydrogen test facility from a representative range of decommissioned NTS assets. Flows of hydrogen and natural gas blends (up to 100% hydrogen) will then be tested at NTS pressures, to better understand how hydrogen interacts with the assets. The data gathered will be used to assess the impact that a hydrogen conversion of NTS assets will have.
The project will build on existing work under the HyNTS programme and increase understanding of the characteristics of hydrogen in the NTS, demonstrating what is required for hydrogen to be safely transported within the high-pressure gas transmission system.
FutureGrid will build on the learning from several desktop-based studies. It will provide a comprehensive off-line test facility to generate the critical evidence we need to operate the NTS with hydrogen. We will define the evidence we need to gather in the master test plan. This sets out the steps required to prove that the NTS and its assets can operate safely and efficiently with hydrogen.
It is widely reported that the most feasible way the UK can meet its Net Zero 2050 target is through a balanced energy mix, where one energy form e.g. electricity is not the answer. The ENA’s ‘Pathways to Net Zero’ report12 found that that the balanced scenario, using decarbonised gas, is lower in cost than the electrified scenario by £13bn/yr, equivalent to 12% of total energy system cost in 2050. This creates a huge cost saving for end consumers in the run up to 2050 and avoids costly capital investment in a new NTS, which would ultimately be funded through consumer bills. Furthermore, Element Energy’s ‘Hy-Impact’ report13 states that decarbonising the UK economy is expected to lead to a four-fold increase in UK Gross Value Added (GVA), which would benefit customers and consumers; this decarbonised economy involves ‘large scale hydrogen usage’ and a hydrogen-carrying NTS would enable this. This view is echoed in the ‘Energy Innovation Needs Assessment’14 by BEIS, which identifies ‘low cost hydrogen delivery infrastructure’ as a key investment area to meet decarbonisation targets.
Referring to the desire for a balanced energy mix, the National Infrastructure Commission’s Net Zero report15 states that hydrogen supports the development of a highly renewable electricity supply and is therefore beneficial to decarbonising beyond the gas component of the energy mix. It was also found that using hydrogen in hydrogen-powered turbines could reduce renewable electricity costs by up to 30% by 2050. FutureGrid will enable the NTS to supply power stations with hydrogen, therefore enabling this cost reduction. Hydrogen also compliments the electricity system through the potential to convert excess renewable electricity to hydrogen via electrolysis. This hydrogen can be used for transport, for example. It is also reported to be at least a tenth the cost to store than battery technology16 with this margin being improved if the NTS could be used as a storage mechanism (line pack17). Hydrogen is beneficial to a whole energy system transformation, and FutureGrid is a key enabler for this transformation. In the RIIO-1 period, NGGT gas turbines used methane, taken from the NTS, and produced a total of 2,121,949 tonnes CO2. An equivalent of 444,726 tonnes CO2 was also vented18. Transporting 100% hydrogen through the NTS could have avoided over 2.5 MT of CO2 during the RIIO-1 period.
The NTS delivers nearly 900 TWh of energy to Great Britain (including GDNs, industry, power generation and exports) each year, which equates to 165.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. If this natural gas were replaced with green hydrogen, generated from renewable energy, all carbon dioxide emissions would be avoided. Similarly, if the natural gas were replaced with blue hydrogen (produced via steam reforming) 153.18 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions would be avoided. This assumes a current 92.5% capture, although plants such as Cadent’s Low Carbon Hydrogen (LCH) plant are expecting capture rates of 97%19, which would improve carbon savings further. Even as the earlier-referenced ENA’s ‘Pathways to Net Zero’ report1 predicts 2050 gas demand to drop to 440 TWh, this still equates to 81 million tonnes carbon dioxide for 2050. The earlier we can replace natural gas in the NTS with hydrogen, the earlier we can start to make carbon savings; therefore, it is imperative that FutureGrid is not delayed. There are further details about potential carbon savings in Appendix A.
Currently, some of the biggest questions to answer in building a hydrogen economy are regarding blue and green hydrogen; where should each technology be implemented, and in what timescale? Blue hydrogen could likely be the pathway to green hydrogen, since blue offers the more scalable and cheaper option in the near future, while green hydrogen technology is expected to mature and drop in cost in the mid-to-long term. The NTS can facilitate this transition from blue to green.
Repurposing the NTS for hydrogen reduces the need for in-land steam methane reformers20 to produce hydrogen around GB and the associated pipelines to remove carbon dioxide. The installation of methane reformers at coastal locations such as St Fergus and Grain LNG terminals is more likely to be achieved under planning regulations. This is due to the existing land use, proximity to Carbon Capture Utilisation & Storage (CCUS) and a local skilled workforce. Conversely, more populated areas of GB will not be able to have such hydrogen production facilities nearby, so transportation of hydrogen in the NTS to the GDNs will be vital. Transitioning to green hydrogen at these terminal locations can also be an ideal solution due to similar reasons, as well as the proximity to renewable offshore wind energy. However, in addition to this coastal green hydrogen, smaller scale electrolysers could possibly connect to the NTS further in-land because CCUS infrastructure is not needed.
Decarbonising the gas in the NTS can help to tackle the harder-to-reach sectors such as heat (domestic, commercial and industrial), which contributes to a third of the UK’s current carbon emissions. While this is true, the UK government has prioritised decarbonising industry and transport before heat (as heat is more difficult). However, as stated in the BEIS ‘Innovation Needs Assessment’3 report:” proving the ability of the existing NTS to be repurposed to hydrogen is essential to enabling widespread hydrogen to use in heat and could also reduce deployment barriers to use in industry and transport”. The FutureGrid project achieves exactly that; it assesses the ability to repurpose the existing NTS and therefore aligns with the views of BEIS. Since the NTS supplies industry and power, the ability to deliver hydrogen will encourage fuel switching, accelerating the decarbonisation of industry and power. The NTS, with its nationwide coverage, could also supply large amounts of hydrogen to enable large-scale hydrogen transport, such as hydrogen bus depots, train depots, shipping depots and HGV refuelling.
The HPDG, chaired by BEIS, aims to build an evidence base to inform heat policy. The HPDG want evidence that hydrogen is technically and economically feasible, whilst maintaining safety with minimal disruption to customers. FutureGrid directly aligns with the needs of the HPDG, as the project will build an evidence base on the capabilities of the NTS to transport hydrogen safely, with no direct disruption to customers since the FutureGrid Test Facility is offline. Therefore, the outcomes of the FutureGrid project will inform heat policy that is essential to the transformation of the energy sector. Moreover, the three workstreams run by GB gas networks in the HPDG are Network safety and operational impacts, Integrated trials and System transformation. The FutureGrid project satisfies all three of these workstreams. Without FutureGrid, the learning and decarbonisation achievable from a UK wide approach to hydrogen will be curtailed. The NTS is uniquely placed to roll out hydrogen delivery and decarbonisation at scale across Great Britain.