Yorkshire can be a national centre for excellence on hydrogen says Northern Gas Network boss Mark Horsley

Yorkshire can become a centre of excellence for the UK’s move toward hydrogen power, a process which will create thousands of jobs, the boss of Northern Gas Networks (NGN).

Mark Horsley, chief executive of NGN which distributes gas to homes and businesses across Yorkshire the North East and parts of Cumbria, told The Yorkshire Post that its plans to begin using hydrogen as a low emissions alternative to heating buildings was one of the most exciting steps in the UK’s energy history.

The Government is set to reveal a hydrogen strategy this summer and NGN for the past few years exploring a number of ways to begin using hydrogen as an alternative to methane gas.

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With 80 per cent of British businesses and households heated by gas, NGN and other energy firms are looking at how they can decarbonise in a bid to meet national targets for the UK to achieve net zero status.

Mark Horsley
Mark Horsley

The heating of homes and businesses accounts for more than a fifth of the UK’s emissions Mr Horsley said that this can be cut by the move to hydrogen, adding that the North of England was best suited to launching the process, owing to salt caverns in the North and Irish Seas which are ideal storage mediums for the gas.

“For Yorkshire and the North East I think this will be the centre of excellence,” he said.

“If it is a centre of excellence it really does drive jobs and it drives a green economy. I am probably toward the end of my career but I really feel this is the most exciting time for energy.”

He added: “You are talking about thousands of jobs. We will need as an industry ourselves to repurpose our training and staff to undertake the work on to hydrogen. I think there is a great opportunity for bringing in a new generation.”

NGN hydrogen car

NGN carried out a successful feasibility study into the use of 100 per cent hydrogen powered premises with its Leeds City Gate project in 2016.

It is currently involved in a number of further pilots, including an abandoned housing estate at South Bank near Middlesbrough to see if it will work at scale and a further live trial is set to begin near Newcastle in July.

The roll out would require the sign off from the Health and Safety Executive watchdog but NGN is confident about using both 100 per cent hydrogen and a blend of hydrogen with other gases in the future.

“We don’t think there is a one silver bullet for the decarbonisation of heat,” he said.

NGN is responsible for thousands of miles of gas pipes.

“I think there is going to be a real need for all the opportunities and anybody who says there is one silver bullet is naïve quite frankly. There will be an increased cost for whichever way we go. There is no free meal ticket to go with decarbonisation of heat.”

For Mr Horsley the biggest advantage hydrogen has over alternative low emission energy methods is the lack of disruption it brings.

“If we can get the deployment of hydrogen the only thing that the customer would notice is the change of that boiler. One of the things we are pushing the Government on its hydrogen strategy and clean building strategy is hopefully to mandate hydrogen ready boilers.

“All we hear in the Press is ‘banning gas boilers’. There is an alternative there which is basically going to be around the same price.

“It is the same as the Towns Gas to North Sea gas conversion, we would do it street by street. The only disruption for the customer would be half an hours work for the engineer to do a switch over.”

Northern Gas Network manages a network of some 37,000kn of pipes transporting gas around the north of England, equivalent in distance to a journey between Leeds and Sydney.

It replaces 440km of this each year.

NGN has launched a Green Transition Bond which will part fund the upgrade of its pipes to transport hydrogen in the future.

“The response has been phenomenal,” said Mr Horsley.

“I think engaging the customer base and engaging the stakeholders is the key to this.”