Hydrogen could be blended with natural gas to heat British homes within the next three years in a bid to reduce pollution, the Government is expected to announce tomorrow.
That would mean that by 2023, 20pc of the gas in pipelines across the country would actually be made up of hydrogen.
The commitment to hydrogen, alongside funding for a new nuclear power plant in Suffolk, further support for onshore and offshore wind and solar, and a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in the next decade, is expected in a 10-point plan that Boris Johnson is due to unveil on Wednesday.
Blending natural gas with hydrogen has already been widely tested. A 20pc hydrogen mix means households would not have to change boilers or other appliances.
But the Energy Networks Association (ENA), which represent gas distributors, has also been working with boiler manufacturers to develop a boiler that is ‘hydrogen-ready’.
“That means it can run on natural gas, on gas and hydrogen blend, and can easily be adjusted to run on 100pc hydrogen,” said Chris Train, former chief executive of gas distribution network Cadent and now Gas Goes Green Champion for the ENA.
“We have been lobbying the Government to mandate hydrogen-ready boilers as customers don’t want disruption and the easiest way to decarbonise is to change that box on everyone’s wall.
“The way I see it working is to convert heavy industry to hydrogen in clusters and then roll it out to the broader distribution network.”
Since 2002, gas network distributors have been replacing old Victorian gas pipes with plastic ones. Around 80pc of the country’s pipes have now been replaced, meaning that they can accommodate hydrogen.
“That gives us a head start. We replaced a pipe last year in Liverpool town centre that was 110 years old. A testament to [Edwardian] engineering," said Mr Train.
But converting the country from natural gas to hydrogen is not without its challenges. There are two ways to make hydrogen: blue hydrogen is made using methane, and the emissions from this process are captured via carbon capture and then stored in old oil and gas fields beneath the seabed.
How hydrogen output could expand in the coming decades, using carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS):
Green hydrogen is made using electrolysis, powered by wind turbines. Carbon capture and storage is still an emerging technology, while the UK’s wind farms would need to be expanded significantly to produce enough excess energy to power the electrolysis process.
It is also expensive. Blue hydrogen is twice as expensive as natural gas, and green hydrogen is four times as expensive.
Still, Mr Train pointed out that offshore wind was costly when it was first being developed and had to be subsidised by the Government. The price of wind power has dropped sharply and he believes the same will be true for hydrogen by 2035.
“Our geology of depleted oil and gas fields offshore gives us an opportunity that other countries don’t have in carbon capture and storage,” he said. “What we are saying is this is an opportunity to invest. The Government’s targets are realistic, but only if we act quickly.”