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Transitioning to hydrogen

IET factfile: Transitioning to hydrogen - main report

The UK is investigating supplying hydrogen to homes and businesses instead of natural gas by “repurposing” the gas network. It presents a major engineering challenge which has never been done anywhere else in the world.

In this new report, experts from a cross-professional engineering institution (PEI) working group, including the IET, have assessed the engineering risks and uncertainties and concluded there is no reason why repurposing the gas network to hydrogen cannot be achieved.

This report begins by exploring the importance of natural gas to the UK’s energy system and the reasons for considering hydrogen, which could contribute significantly to the decarbonisation of the UK and reducing the current dependency on natural gas. These include:

Hydrogen allows much of our existing gas infrastructure to be used

Hydrogen can be used by industry, businesses and homes

Hydrogen can be produced in large volumes

Hydrogen compares well with other low-carbon heat technologies

It presents 15 core questions that would need to be addressed to enable the large-scale retrofit deployment of hydrogen to homes and businesses. Each of these core questions are reviewed and their importance explained. There have been a growing number of projects exploring hydrogen and these are briefly summarised with a subjective assessment made in terms of their contribution to the core questions and gaps identified.

Finally, there are five key messages that require urgent attention:

  • Progress CCuS infrastructure - Without the simultaneous deployment of a carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCuS) infrastructure hydrogen does not have a future for large-scale retrofit deployment to industry, homes and businesses.
  • Deploy critical new technology - The large-scale deployment of hydrogen to homes and businesses will involve the introduction of new technologies for which there is limited experience.
  • Prepare a transition programme - This needs to include sufficient enough detail to ensure the identification of critical path items and their associated uncertainties.
  • Develop skills and plan resources - Transitioning to hydrogen will require resources ranging from craft skills, technicians, planning and designer engineers, academic and industrial researchers though to project management and customer-facing skills.
  • Fund the programme - The transition programme will require substantial investment over many years.

The paper does not pass judgement on whether hydrogen is desirable in terms of the economy, society or the environment. It has come to the view that from an engineering perspective there is no reason why large-scale deployment of hydrogen cannot be achieved safely. However, it is important that the engineering risks and uncertainties are comprehensively addressed before a programme of large-scale deployment is commenced.