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Hydrogen explained: what are the benefits for organisations?

There’s increasing interest in hydrogen as part of the sustainable energy mix – with governments launching hydrogen strategies. So what are the potential benefits to organisations?

As you look to move faster toward net zero, you probably recognise that in the long run, you may need to rely on many different technologies as part of your sustainable energy mix. As part of that mix, one potential energy source attracting interest is hydrogen. But how can hydrogen energy help your organisation – and when?

The short answer, as we saw in our first Hydrogen Explained article, is that low-carbon hydrogen technology is still in its infancy – because while hydrogen is carbon-free to burn, it’s still carbon-intensive to produce. That said, initiatives such as the UK Hydrogen Strategy and the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance mean that could be set to change.

Although most organisations may not see commercial benefits from hydrogen in the near term, some use cases for lower-carbon hydrogen should start to be seen within the next 5–10 years.

So it’s worth understanding the benefits now – so you’re well placed to make the most of the hydrogen use cases which affect you.

Hydrogen in industrial processes

Probably the most immediate use case for hydrogen energy is in heavy industry, which currently relies on fossil fuels for high-grade heat.

If you’re in an industrial sector, you’ll already know the limitations of renewable electricity in providing the high-grade heat you need – for example, in the manufacturing of glass, steel or ceramics. But at the same time, you’re keen to decarbonise as soon as possible. Hydrogen could be a solution in such “hard to electrify” industrial sectors.

According to the UK Hydrogen Strategy, industrial sectors could be using hydrogen within the next decade, potentially in industrial “clusters” where they can take advantage of shared infrastructure. The strategy aims for carbon capture, use and storage technology (so-called “blue hydrogen” – see our basics of hydrogen article for more info) to be established in four industrial clusters by 2030.

Hydrogen-powered CHP

The UK’s hydrogen strategy also notes the role of both boilers and Combined Heat and Power (CHP) as industries switch toward hydrogen as a fuel.

At Centrica Business Solutions, we’re working to ensure our CHP solutions that meet the technical and commercial challenges of reaching net zero, with future-defining projects on blended hydrogen and 100% hydrogen fuelled engines.

We already after hydrogen-ready CHP solutions across a broad range of engines, which can operate with a 20-25% hydrogen blend from day one. For large-scale engines, this could be increased up to 40%, though there would be some technical considerations for us to explore first. And we’re even trialling 100% hydrogen-fuelled CHPs.

Hydrogen for heat

By the mid-2020s, the UK government also says it will have plans in place for a possible “hydrogen-heated town”, replacing natural gas.

In the relatively short term, hydrogen could also be deployed quickly and cost effectively by blending it with natural gas. This could provide an ‘easy win’ to decarbonise gas-powered end uses. It could also be a market entry point for hydrogen produced using low-carbon or zero-carbon processes.

A mix of up to 20% hydrogen could be transported in existing natural gas pipelines, without needing substantial upgrades.

This would be far less costly than transporting hydrogen by road or sea – and could help to reduce the emissions associated with heating buildings.

Hydrogen to complement renewable power

A systemic advantage of hydrogen is its longer-term power storage. In this scenario, renewable power could be converted to hydrogen during periods of excess supply, and back to power (using electrolysis, the so-called “green hydrogen” process) when demand increases or supply drops.

In this way, hydrogen can complement electrification by allowing the energy system to be less flow-based – providing the flexibility required for power system balancing, and reducing the need for peaking capacity. This would help provide greater resilience.

In its 2020 Future Energy Scenarios report, the National Grid says that hydrogen’s role in providing zero-carbon flexibility and peak-load power will be important in all scenarios. Even its most cautious net zero scenario will require at least 15TWh of hydrogen storage by 2050. 

One option could be the Rough reservoir, located offshore in Humberside, which has stored natural gas safely for more than three decades. Repurposing this reservoir has the potential to provide around half of the UK’s hydrogen storage needs.

Kickstarting the hydrogen economy at Rough

Start today towards net zero

As you move forward on your journey toward net zero, it’s important to recognise that hydrogen energy is no “silver bullet” – but that in the longer term, it could play an increasingly valuable role.

If you work in an energy-intensive industry or a “hard to electrify” sector, for example, it’s worth finding out more now about how hydrogen could help to provide high-grade heat. If you’re in an industry like this, there may be pressure to implement lower-carbon alternatives to fossil fuel heat as soon as they become commercially available, so the time to start planning is now.

At the same time, consider how your existing systems, such as CHP engines, might be adapted to run on hydrogen – especially if you’re planning a CHP investment now.

In the meantime, consider hydrogen a long-term part of your portfolio of sustainable energy options – and one which is likely to become more sustainable and more cost-effective over time. To discuss your net zero strategy and how hydrogen and other innovative new technologies could provide a pathway to decarbonisation, speak to our expert team.