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expert reaction to transitioning to hydrogen

A report produced by the Institution of Engineering and Technology has assessed the possibility of using hydrogen in place of natural gas in the UK’s gas grid and concluded that there is no reason why this cannot be achieved safely.  


Dr Peter Clough, Lecturer in Energy Engineering at Cranfield University, said:

“Hydrogen offers the potential to decarbonise large sectors of the UK, meeting the UK’s ambitious net zero by 2050 target, without requiring the construction of vast numbers of new power generators and electrical grid circuit changes.

“This report accurately assesses the UK’s technical and engineering capability to deliver hydrogen through the existing gas network and highlights the world-leading projects that are currently underway in the UK to demonstrate each step of the future hydrogen grid.

“As this report points out, and as many others have before, the UK needs to deploy CO2 capture (CCS) if the UK is to meet its climate change targets; which is irrespective of choosing a national hydrogen or electrification decarbonisation route.

“Changing from natural gas to hydrogen will be a somewhat easier change for the general public to accommodate rather than electrification, as the former just requires a new boiler while the latter requires installing more radiators, more home insulation, and people applying a different approach to heating.

“Long-term planning and government-backed investment has always been the downfall of these types of large-scale, high impact decarbonisation projects. The report recognises that government, across all parties, needs to implement a clear plan about how net zero by 2050 targets will be met.”



Nigel Holmes, Chief Executive of the Scottish Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association, said:

“This report clearly shows that from an engineering perspective the large-scale deployment of hydrogen can be achieved safely. Delivering our ambitions to achieve net zero emissions will require us to tackle the ‘hard to treat’ emissions from heat, transport and industry, and this is where hydrogen can play a significant role.

“Work to fully understand any remaining engineering and energy system risks and uncertainties must now begin. Professional bodies and industry associations should now also develop wider engagement with civic society to show how hydrogen can support the just transition to a low carbon economy.”


Prof William Nuttall, Professor of Energy at The Open University, said:

“The report ‘Transitioning to Hydrogen’ from the UK engineering institutions highlights much recent interest in the possibility to decarbonise heating via a shift from natural gas to hydrogen supply. This is an important and timely idea being advanced rapidly by several UK projects. The new report represents an excellent starting point for anyone interested in this bold British idea.”


Matthew Knight, Head of Business Development at Siemens plc and member of the IET’s Energy Policy Panel, said:

 “One of many big challenges to decarbonise the UK economy is to stop burning natural gas to heat our homes and cook our meals.  No option is simple or without cost but switching from fossil methane to clean hydrogen in our gas supply is a credible strategy that is likely to be part of the solution.  The report shows that the technical barriers are manageable given the right focus.  We will also need to win public acceptance to manage a street by street rolling switch over, the like of which has not been seen since the arrival of ‘natural gas’ in the 1970s.

“Launching a range of hydrogen-ready gas boilers now costs very little and will make switching over in the future more straightforward.  It will also build public awareness that clean hydrogen could be on its way.”


 Dr Keith MacLean, Professional Chemist and Managing Director at Providence Policy which provides independent advice and expert opinion on energy policy, said:

“Following on from this week’s commitment to net zero emissions, this is a very timely report. Coming from such a broad group of professional bodies it represents a robust, objective assessment of the potential role for hydrogen to reduce carbon emissions. It makes clear that there are no fundamental barriers to the use of hydrogen but also rightly prioritises the need for proof of concept in the real world. It will be essential that this does not just cover the technical and economic aspects, but also tests the acceptability of this to the public.”



Dr Ian Madley, Manchester Fuel Cell Innovation Centre at Manchester Metropolitan University, said:

“The full report sets out the key opportunities and challenges to the production, distribution and use of pure hydrogen gas networks for both heat and transport.   At the same time, it also usefully sets out the leading role that the UK is playing in the development of these technologies.  Where the report falls down is not in the detail but in the way the press release has chosen to focus only on the conversion of heat to a 100% hydrogen gas supply and the associated cost of converting appliances.  This ignores the potential for delivery of mixtures of methane and hydrogen, as is currently being explored by the HyDeploy project.  Methane / Hydrogen mixtures provide both a way to transition to hydrogen use in a much shorter timeframe and when combined with renewable sources of methane, such as biomethane, a lower cost route to decarbonising heating.”


Angus McIntosh, Director of Energy Futures at SGN, said:

“Hydrogen offers a credible and exciting opportunity to decarbonise across all sectors. The UK has all the ingredients to lead the way, from natural resources to engineering excellence. The quantity and quality of research being undertaken reflects the opportunity. We must continue this great work, demonstrate it and deliver the framework for change. All the while ensuring we are meeting customers wants and needs.”


‘Transitioning to Hydrogen’ was published by the Institution of Engineering and Technology at 00.01 UK TIME on Friday 14 June 2019.



Declared interests

Dr MacLean: As well as my advisory role at Providence Policy, I am Chair of the Advisory Board of the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) and of the Scientific Advisory Committee for UKRIs Energy Programme. I am also a member of the Government’s Hy4Heat advisory group. I think the only potential conflict of interest for me might be that I am supporting SGN with the stakeholder engagement work on ‘H100’, a feasibility study of the potential for hydrogen demonstrator projects.

Angus McIntosh is Director of Energy Futures at SGN, which is seeking to construct the first of a kind Hydrogen for heat network in the UK in 2021. We aim to supply green Hydrogen generated from renewable sources to around 300 customers in Scotland. I am also chair of the IGEM Gas Quality Standard Group and director of SHFCA. Hope this helps.

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