The hydrogen city: clean, green & another nail in the fossil fuel coffin
The Fifth Estate, April 12, 2016. Image credit: brainbuffet
Hydrogen produces only water and heat when burnt and, if made using renewable fuels, is zero carbon.
Leeds in the UK is investigating the potential to convert its natural gas to hydrogen in a £55 million (AU$102.6m) pilot project. The “hydrogen city” proposal is a leading example of how some cities and energy supply companies are considering ways to decarbonise heating and cooking in the future and become less dependent on fossil fuels.
Northern Gas Networks is responsible for maintaining the gas grid infrastructure for 2.7 million homes in the north of England. In this area, 85 percent of buildings use gas for heating space and water and for cooking.
The company sees the conversion of this network to take hydrogen as affordable and possible on an incremental scale. It also sees potential for using hydrogen for a vehicle refuelling network and for heating, possibly using micro-combined heat and power, as part of the UK Government’s “Northern Powerhouse” project.
The plan to make Leeds a “hydrogen city” would eventually cost about £2 billion and involve converting all domestic gas boilers and cookers to run on hydrogen. NGN has already received £300,000 (AU$559,670) funding from energy regulator Ofgem to develop the idea.
The role of hydrogen in decarbonising buildings
A study published two years ago criticised governments for not considering the role hydrogen could play in decarbonising buildings and heating. It concluded that fuel cells could especially offer wider energy system benefits for high-latitude countries because of their peak electricity demands in winter; but the same could be true in low latitude countries that have a high electricity demand for air-conditioning.
The study argued that gas networks could prove difficult to displace with alternatives, particularly because consumers who have them like their gas boilers, which they perceive as safe, cheap, effective and easy to control, so why not adapt the existing markets and infrastructure for gaseous heating fuels and convert these to use hydrogen?
Both of the above academic studies are co-authored by Paul Dodds of University College London, an expert in energy economics. But the UK government also appears to be backing the idea, building on a 2012 strategy paper on The Future of Heating: A strategic framework for low carbon heat in the UK.