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How National Grid Gas is unlocking the potential to deliver a net zero future

15 November 2022

Steven Vallender explains how gas transmission can support the transition to net zero and the UK economy.

How National Grid Gas is unlocking the potential to deliver a net zero future
At National Grid, we see hydrogen as being front and centre of the net zero transition. Image credit: National Grid

Last month I had the pleasure of speaking to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure (APPGI) about how National Grid Gas Transmission is unlocking the potential of our infrastructure to deliver a net zero future while supporting economic recovery and creating jobs.

Gas transmission: opportunities for the future

Our National Transmission System (NTS) has been the backbone of the UK economy for years, transporting natural gas throughout Great Britain.

Today, natural gas is critical to the UK energy system – generating approximately 40% of the UK’s electricity. It powers industry and enables 23 million of us across the country to heat our homes.

Not only that, but it will continue to be the UK’s primary energy source for many years to come as part of an orderly transition to net zero.

The role of hydrogen in the UK’s transition to net zero

At National Grid Gas Transmission, we see hydrogen as being front and centre of that transition because it can be used in a similar way to natural gas.

In particular, it will have a vital role in decarbonising industry as electrification is just not suitable for some processes.

We’re starting from a great place.

The NTS is perfectly positioned to support hydrogen throughout the UK, as it was built to bring gas from the North Sea and connect it to all critical parts of the country, including the industrial clusters and distribution networks.

Our vision for the future is the development of a hydrogen backbone that continues to connect these areas. It will be integrated with carbon capture and storage (CCS) and hydrogen production sites.

Offshore wind will fit perfectly with this vision, with renewable electricity being used to produce ‘green hydrogen’ to be transported through the NTS.

Project Union: unlocking a UK hydrogen economy

Project Union is the name we’ve given to our work to create a first-of-a-kind hydrogen transmission backbone for the UK.

Through a phased repurposing of existing assets, alongside creating new ones where needed, a hydrogen transmission network of around 2,000km will be created.

It will represent around 25% of the UK’s current natural gas transmission pipelines.

This approach, where we primarily repurpose assets, is up to five times more cost-effective compared to building from scratch.

The backbone will connect and integrate hydrogen supply, demand, and storage, enabling effective market growth and efficient scaling up.

Project Union: exciting opportunities

The advantage of a hydrogen transmission system is that it connects otherwise isolated production sites to enable competition, driving down costs for consumers, and improving security and certainty of supply.

Project Union will be absolutely at the heart of a hydrogen economy and the government’s target of 10GW of low-carbon hydrogen production by 2030.

Project Union also creates export opportunities for the UK economy.

Currently, 31 European transmission system operators are working together to develop a 53,000km European Hydrogen Backbone by 2040.

Integrating the UK’s hydrogen backbone with Europe’s is key to enabling imports and exports of hydrogen with neighbouring countries.

Dual pathway to a hydrogen NTS

Rolling out blends

The shift to a 100% hydrogen transmission system will likely include the rollout of blends of hydrogen into the natural gas network.

This is important because blending supports early hydrogen production by providing economic confidence to producers.

Blending in the NTS is significant because it addresses any imbalance between initial hydrogen supply and demand.

In fact, hydrogen producers tell us that blending would support their business case for developing large-scale production projects.

Engaging in the practicalities

Alongside all this, we’re already engaged in the practicalities.

FutureGrid is the name of our test facility, an offline hydrogen test site that’s using decommissioned assets to show that the NTS can transport hydrogen safely.

The facility is representative of the current network and will be used to test a range of different hydrogen blends (2%, 5%, 20%, and 100%), as part of the dual pathway approach.

Located in Cumbria, the project started in April 2021 with funding from Ofgem’s Network Innovation Competition (NIC), and the first phase is expected to be complete by September 2023.

All of us at National Grid Gas Transmission are really excited about the transition to hydrogen as the green gas of the future.

There’s no way that the UK gets to net zero without it and we’re delighted to be at the forefront of the work to deliver a clean energy transition for everyone.

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  • Steven Vallender, director of asset - gas transmission at National Grid Gas plc