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  • World’s largest project to reduce carbon emissions
  • UK-wide rollout to achieve 80% of remaining 2050 emissions reduction targets
  • Potential for thousands of high-quality jobs and ability for UK to become global leader in hydrogen skills and technology

The UK is ready to lead the way in reducing CO2 emissions with the world’s largest clean energy project.

Published today (Friday 23 November), the H21 North of England report sets out detailed plans on how hydrogen could be used as a way to deliver clean energy to millions of homes across the North of England.

It outlines how over 3.7 million homes and 40,000 businesses and industries in the north of England that are heated by natural gas could be converted to hydrogen by 2034. The project also proposes a six-phase UK rollout which could see a further 12 million homes across the rest of the country converted to hydrogen by 2050.

The UK has committed to reducing its carbon emissions by at least 80% of 1990 levels by 2050. Currently, over 30% of emissions come from domestic heating and cooking.

The H21 North of England report finds that converting the UK gas grid to hydrogen has the ability to provide “deep decarbonisation” of heat, as well as transport and power generation, with minimal disruption to customers. This has the combined potential to reduce carbon emissions by over 258 million tonnes a year by 2050, equating to over 80% of the UK’s remaining reduction target.

The report has been led by Northern Gas Networks in partnership with Cadent and Norwegian energy company Equinor, who all expect hydrogen to play a major role in meeting carbon reduction targets in the UK and across the world.

The proposals will see homes across the north of England begin to be converted in 2028, with expansion across 3.7 million properties in Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, York, Huddersfield, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Teesside and Newcastle over the following seven years. The cost of the project is estimated to be £22.7bn.

The report claims this would be “the world’s largest CO2 emission reduction project, preventing 12.5 million tonnes of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere each year”.

The hydrogen will be produced from natural gas at a self-powered 12.15 gigawatt production facility with carbon capture technology, generating enough hydrogen to fuel homes and industries in the north of England. The production facility would see salt caverns used to safely store hydrogen until required, ensuring there is more than enough to meet demand during the coldest times of year. This same process is already used for storing natural gas. The by-product of the process, carbon dioxide, would be stored safely in saline aquifers such as those in the Southern North Sea off the north east coast of England. The hydrogen produced will be transported to the local city grids in a new high pressure transmission system designed with extra capacity to enable future supply for industry, power and transport.

If expanded to the rest of the UK, the project would see a total 15.7 million homes converted to hydrogen by 2050, creating over a hundred thousand jobs and covering 70% of all domestic, industrial and commercial heat across the UK.

The report states that this “deep decarbonisation” of heat would stimulate the rollout of other hydrogen technology, such as hydrogen appliances, fuel cells, production technologies, cars, buses, trains and even planes which are all already being developed in the UK.

The Government has expressed enthusiasm for the potential of hydrogen and has recently invested over £60m for research into conversion technology as part of its modern industrial strategy. It is hoped the UK will become the global leader in hydrogen conversion, creating thousands of new well-paid domestic jobs along with a lucrative export market available to sell skills and technology across the world.

Local authorities across the north, including the Mayors of Tees Valley, Liverpool and Manchester and the Leader of Leeds City Council, as well as cross-party group of MPs, have spoken out in favour of hydrogen innovation to meet climate change targets and support clean air programmes. Unions such as UNISON and GMB are also calling for investment in hydrogen conversion technology, believing it will create and sustain thousands of good jobs.

The H21 North of England report says the next step is to progress into the Front End Engineering and Design (FEED) phase. The FEED phase would be a 3-4 year programme starting in 2019 to detail the technical solution towards a final investment decision by 2023. The report calls on the Government and industry to share the cost of this study, as a sign of future commitment on both sides.

Dan Sadler, H21 Programme Director, Northern Gas Networks said:

“If rolled out UK-wide, this detailed engineering solution has the potential to decarbonise 70% of domestic heat by 2050, and represents a huge leap towards our country meeting the Climate Change challenge.

“If the Government is to meet its legally-binding carbon reduction targets, it cannot afford to miss out on the opportunities presented by decarbonising the UK gas network and its associated impact on other industries.

“Northern Gas Networks looks forward to taking the H21 North of England proposals forward with the Government as part of the Clean Growth Grand Challenge”.

Henrik Solgaard Andersen, H21 Programme Director, Equinor said:

“Across the world, industry and Governments are becoming ever more interested in hydrogen’s potential to play a lead role in reducing carbon emissions across whole economies. This report will be of interest to many countries, but the UK has the ideal mix of geography, skilled workforce and existing technology to begin deep decarbonisation of heat today.

“H21 North of England is an excellent example of the dynamic UK-Norway energy partnership focused around the North Sea. And Equinor looks forward to working with our partners and the UK Government to make the H21 North of England project a world-leading example of decarbonisation and seize the opportunities it offers”.

Simon Fairman, Director Network Strategy and Safety, Cadent said:

“Cadent is pleased to be a partner on this report as part of our collaborative work with other gas networks to explore all possible future options to lower carbon emissions from gas use in the UK. Working together on long-term programmes will help to find the best solutions for UK customers. We believe the North of England is very well placed to pioneer hydrogen delivery, and that it can bring significant economic and environmental benefits”.

Chris Stark, Chief Executive, Committee on Climate Change said:

 The CCC welcome this report and recognises the potential H21 has to make a large impact in UK and global climate change obligations.  We have advised UK Government that a credible, deliverable policy decision to provide deep decarbonisation of heat across the UK needs to be taken within the next parliament.  The H21 NoE project has the potential to significantly help and inform and subsequently deliver on such a decision.”

Henri Murison, Director, Northern Powerhouse, said:

“This idea has come out of the North, we’re proud of it here in the North and as the Northern Powerhouse Partnership, we see the support from our business community for this genuinely radical and innovative solution to dealing with a huge global problem.”