Will gas per unit become more expensive when we decarbonize domestic gas and replace with hydrogen?


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From my calculations, it looks like the decarbonization of the gas network will result in gas going from£0.04/kW to £0.24/kW, when it switches to Hydrogen.

This is because it takes 55kW of electricity of to electrolyse water to produce hydrogen gas which gives 33.6kW of power.  Getting hydrogen from other sources either produce carbon, or are still in the very early lab phase.

This does not take into account the increased losses in the network, or additional manufacturing assets.

 

Is this what the future will be like - gas too expensive to use domestically? 

Anyone care to comment; are my assumptions wrong?  

Who will use domestic gas in the future?

 


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Hiya @Glaikit !

Hmm, that’s a good question actually. No doubt this is exactly the sort of thing that @Transparent loves. It’s a bit tricky for me to give an exact answer as I’ve not yet mastered the art of using crystal balls to predict the future. My last attempt caused 50 of them to shatter somehow. Maybe by Hydro Cannon is a bit too powerful? XD

Sadly there’s a common trend with these things. The cheapest sources are almost always the dirtiest, while the most expensive sources are almost always the cleanest and greenest. Gas is just so cheap at the moment, but it’s also nasty stuff when it comes to the environmental impact.

In some ways, gas is being sort of phased out, especially some of the existing sources. But if new sources come in, then it might be a case of migrating to those sources and deprecating the existing ones instead of completely pulling the plug. But yep, there’s a very high chance of such sources being more expensive and this would ultimate result in price increases regardless of supplier. Exactly how much that might be is unknown at this time but I wouldn’t be surprised if your guess is pretty close. In fact, given those losses you might as well just use the electricity directly rather than turning it into hydrogen.

I’m also tempted to agree that gas could even become too expensive to be financially viable as well. For me personally, my flat is Electric-Only and I’ve personally not had a problem with that. I’ve gotten used to only having Electricity and I’d be more than willing to continue doing it that way, but others might be reluctant to do that. I guess it’s hard to say really...

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I think you are right when you say “sort of phased out”. 

But it seems that the government is doing it quietly, ie. stop selling natural gas boilers and prevent putting them in new builds. 

The problem is with the existing housing stock.  Not everyone can put in heat pumps, or get the co-ordination required for district heating for a block of flats or row of terraced houses. 

This problem should be shouted from the rooftops, because it will affect a lot of people who just don’t know about it yet.

The last thing we need is fossil fuel companies saying they have the solution with blue hydrogen, where they suggest reforming natural gas and sticking the CO2 down a disused oil well (or other carbon capture ideas) - a disaster waiting to happen.

Unfortunately the government will look around and see blue hydrogen as a short-term way out of this problem, kicking the can down the road, talking a good game, but not doing as much as they should for the next generation.

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Yep, that wouldn’t surprise me either to be completely honest. OVO does actually have some zero-carbon heating trials on the go right now actually and this includes options such as heat pumps and ground source heating. We’ve even got a dedicated Treehouse which is used by members on the trials to discuss progress. It’s hoped that some more content from that can be made public shortly.

It’s also one of the purposes of this very forum as well. I’ll let a couple of random members know about this thread who have an interest. Any thoughts @hydrosam and @juliamc ?

Other than getting a whole ton of trees to gobble up CO2 and deal with it naturally, I’m not too sure I’d be that confident about carbon capture projects being viable. It’s probably going to end up becoming a case where gas gets more expensive than electricity and that might be the only way to discourage the use of it I guess...

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I think, @Glaikit that few people yet understand the technologies which could actually enable the UK to achieve Nett Zero carbon emissions.

However, there are some excellent engineers around who have conducted some interesting experiments. Amongst these are Peter White and Faithful Chanda from Western Power Distribution, together with their colleagues from Wales & West Utilities, the gas network distributors.

Have a look at the Reports from their Freedom Project which operated with funding from the Welsh Government in 2017-18.

They took the initiative to install hybrid Heat pumps in 75 properties. These could use mains gas or electricity to optimise the home heating and hot water.

Although the houses were still supplied with the usual mains gas based on hydrocarbons during the Freedom Trial, they were able to assess whether there would be sufficient energy available from hydrogen, should that be piped nationwide in future.

Mains Gas is required to have a Calorific Value of 37MJ/m³ under the present regulations. In contrast, pure hydrogen has a CV of just 12MJ/m³.

Whilst the Freedom Trial was based on the physics rather than the operational costs, it does provide a rich data-set from which the viability of switching to hydrogen gas networks can be properly evaluated.

 

Please also note that there are large areas of the UK where it would be possible to generate greatly more electricity from renewable sources than we are doing at present. I live in one of these areas - the SW peninsular.

We are currently constrained in approval of further wind, solar and wave/tidal power because of there being no available capacity in the Distribution Grid to send it elsewhere in the country. (There are physical limits on the amount of power that a transformer can handle “in reverse”).

One possibility is to use additional electricity generation capacity to create hydrogen. That can be sent through the Gas Distribution Network very cheaply and with few system modifications.

 

I can’t directly answer your question with an actual figure for gas unit prices.

But I hope I have provided some insight into possibilities which you may not otherwise have encountered.

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Great topic to raise here, @Glaikit

 

The implications of de-carbonizing the way we heat our homes is certainly an important aspect of our journey to Plan Zero and the use of hydrogen raises some interesting applications - 

 

 

Please also note that there are large areas of the UK where it would be possible to generate greatly more electricity from renewable sources than we are doing at present. I live in one of these areas - the SW peninsular.

We are currently constrained in approval of further wind, solar and wave/tidal power because of there being no available capacity in the Distribution Grid to send it elsewhere in the country. (There are physical limits on the amount of power that a transformer can handle “in reverse”).

One possibility is to use additional electricity generation capacity to create hydrogen. That can be sent through the Gas Distribution Network very cheaply and with few system modifications.

 

Our resident green-energy expert @Transparent makes a great point about the possible integration of renewable energy and hydrogen production - some really interesting research is already taking place in this area. 

 

Know this might be of interest to @Jequinlan and others looking for green-heat alternatives other than Heat Pumps

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There will be problems pumping Hydrogen through existing pipes, the hydrogen atom is a lot smaller than the molecules in natural gas, this is bound to cause leakage problems.  This is why ‘rubber’ balloons can’t be used for hydrogen; air molecules are too big to pass through the holes in the ‘rubber’ but hydrogen atoms can easily pass through the holes, and the balloon deflates.

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I currently use over 40MW of gas to heat the house, which is about 7.5 tonnes of carbon per annum. 

A single tree takes about 1 tonne of carbon out of the atmosphere over its 100 year life.  Assuming it is not then cut down and burnt.

I’m looking at a ground source heat pump to reduce my carbon footprint, but it took a lot of research to get my head around all the available options, especially as I am also on the V2G trial which adds to the load problem.

I’ve been in IT since the 1970s so I’m used to changing technology, and everyone knows a bit about IT now as a result of the pandemic, even my father whose in his 90s. 

My point is that there are new technologies which will shortly affect everyone, but very few are aware of this.

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@Transparent  I think that using electricity generated in areas with the constraints you describe to make hydrogen will not solve the problem. Surely using the money required for electrolyzers would be better spent improving the grid, and have a better ROI?

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Great conversation starter this one, thanks for posting, @Glaikit

 

There will be problems pumping Hydrogen through existing pipes, the hydrogen atom is a lot smaller than the molecules in natural gas, this is bound to cause leakage problems.  

 

 

I recently listened to a BBC podcast which did suggest existing gas infrastructure could be used for Hydrogen fuel. That would certainly be ideal for this reason:

 

We are currently constrained in approval of further wind, solar and wave/tidal power because of there being no available capacity in the Distribution Grid to send it elsewhere in the country. (There are physical limits on the amount of power that a transformer can handle “in reverse”).

One possibility is to use additional electricity generation capacity to create hydrogen. That can be sent through the Gas Distribution Network very cheaply and with few system modifications.

 

Things like shipping, heavy industry, planes etc. Hydrogen could be part of the solution. But in my opinion the electrification of our domestic transport and our heating is key. I don’t think we should allow the potential of hydrogen fuel to stop us moving away from gas today! 

 

I currently use over 40MW of gas to heat the house, which is about 7.5 tonnes of carbon per annum. 

A single tree takes about 1 tonne of carbon out of the atmosphere over its 100 year life.  Assuming it is not then cut down and burnt.

 

 

These numbers really highlight the challenge here. I heard that recently, calls have grown for the social and environmental obligations that make up a part of your cost per kWh or electricity to be shifted to gas. 

 

Personally I am a big supporter of the idea of shifting these costs onto the price of gas, instead of electricity, as well as supporting those vulnerable with subsidies for electric heating. For one thing it will change the cost equation for something like an electric heat pump.  

 

I’m looking at a ground source heat pump to reduce my carbon footprint, but it took a lot of research to get my head around all the available options, especially as I am also on the V2G trial which adds to the load problem.

I’ve been in IT since the 1970s so I’m used to changing technology, and everyone knows a bit about IT now as a result of the pandemic, even my father whose in his 90s. 

My point is that there are new technologies which will shortly affect everyone, but very few are aware of this.

 

I definitely recommend you check out this guide, @Glaikit:

 

 

and yes I agree. There’s a lot of unknowns about these technologies. It’s one of the core reasons for this forum of course….

 

@Transparent  I think that using electricity generated in areas with the constraints you describe to make hydrogen will not solve the problem. Surely using the money required for electrolyzers would be better spent improving the grid, and have a better ROI?

 

@Transparent keen to hear your reply to this one...

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In terms of replacing gas, @Tim_OVO I’m actively looking at a Ground Source Heat Pump (GSHP) which have a higher Coefficient of Performance than ASHP,  and attract higher RHI.

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Don’t move this conversation along too fast please!

I note what @Glaikit has stated about the size of a hydrogen atom and increased pipe leakage.

Equally, I don’t think that Wales & West Utilities would’ve allowed the Final Report of the Freedom Project to have been released without mentioning hydrogen issues if it were to be a major problem. The use of hybrid Heat pumps for the Welsh Trials was a well-considered choice, made by some very senior engineers in the relevant industries.

So I don’t want to let this point pass by without getting us some facts to back it up. I’ve forwarded this question to a 3rd-party who may be able to point us towards a source of real-world data about hydrogen transportation.

There are several variables to be considered, such as the extent to which polyethylene pipes are used, and the three main pressure bands used in the Gas Distribution Network (GDN).

Stand by for further update.

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@Transparent said “I’ve forwarded this question to a 3rd-party “ - that would be very interesting I would really like to see information about leakage.

As for hydrogen and transportation this video from **Real Engineering** has some very interesting figures:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7MzFfuNOtY

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Great link, @Glaikit.

 

Not sure if you’ve seen it but we’ve also recently published an article about some of the implications of investing in a hydrogen network here.

 

Also looking forward to @Transparent’s update!

 

 

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Thanks for link  @Jess_OVO Hadn’t seen it before. 

Estimate of gas price rise in line with mine.

Also, @Transparent , safety issues addressed by linked report.

I remember the switch from Town Gas to Natural Gas, and the disruption it caused.  Moving from Natural Gas to Hydrogen will probably mean greater disruption.

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Thanks for the link to the Freedom Project @Transparent

I’ve had a look through the initial project documentation, some of the progress reports, and final report.  I can’t find any reference to hydrogen trials. 

The only use of gas seems to be natural gas in hybrid systems.  There is mention of hydrogen in some of the future scenarios, but it also says there is a risk of it being too expensive. 

One of the documents @Jess_OVO linked to talks about the risks in using hydrogen in domestic settings, and domestic appliances. 

Hydrogen boilers will require boilers will require physical changes before they can be used with pure hydrogen.  Boilers advertised as ‘Hydrogen Ready’ only seem to be ready to accept a 20% hydrogen mix cf. Worcester-Bosch.

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@Glaikit have you heard this episode of  BBC’s ‘Costing the Earth’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000vwsc at 11 mins in they’re discussing a hydrogen system in Orkney where instead of burning hydrogen it’s passed over a catalyst which generates heat - but it’s not explained how this works !!! 

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@juliamc I don't know of any other examples similar to the Orkney zero flame hydrogen boiler you pointed to.  Perhaps someone else can enlighten us.

Orkney is a net exporter of electricity to the Scottish mainland.

It is currently constrained by the size of the interconnect which limits the amount of power it can export.

Under constrained export circumstances it can make sense to store excess power by means of hydrogen for future use, and this may be where that heater comes in.

An additional interconnect is planned which will enable the power from the planned offshore windfarms and tidal schemes to be easily exported.

It is more efficient to use the electricity directly for carbon free domestic space heating, rather than go through the route electricity -> gas -> heat.  

Your description @juliamc  of using hydrogen with a catalyst  reminded me of a wand that my mother used to light the gas when we had town gas.  I think the wand had platinum as the catalyst.  It stopped working when the UK moved to natural gas, which does not have hydrogen in it.

Remembering this made me look up the percentage of hydrogen in town gas.  It seems it was about 49%.

So, @Transparent  , it seems hydrogen in the pipeline may not be as big a problem as I first thought, but I still think it will be a problem, especially in the home.

Another thought on Orkney.  

It has or had, when I went there,  the highest per capita number  of electric cars in the UK.

It is an  wonderful place with absolutely astounding neolithic sites including the earliest standing stones in the UK.  It seems that the neolithic standing stone culture which first developed there radiated throughout GB and Ireland and influenced the building of Stonehenge.  

Hopefully the current Orkney renewable culture  will also radiate.

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Well I do now have some figures on transportation of hydrogen, courtesy of Nigel, Manager of the excellent Customer and Social Obligations Strategy team at Wales & West Utilities :slight_smile:

In similar fashion to the electricity DNOs, Ofgem has imposed revenue constraints on Gas Transporters. Under RIIO-GD1 they have obligations to liaise and interact with consumers, community energy groups and small-scale producers, such as bio-gas generators on farms. Their revenue is restricted unless they demonstrate that they fulfill those obligations.

This is an opportunity to work with the large utility companies in shaping our future energy models. So we need to use these communication channels wisely.

 

Firstly hydrogen can be safely and efficiently be transported in polyethylene (PE) pipes for both the low-pressure mains which serve our houses, and the medium-pressure network which forms the vast majority of the cross-country routes between towns.

The National Gas Grid uses high-pressure pipes between 20barg to 100barg. This is unsuitable for PE and will remain welded steel.

 

The regional Gas distribution companies also work closely with the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), who have stipulated that all metallic pipes within 30m of a building must be replaced by 2032.

Wales & West Utilities are working ahead to the curve to achieve that in addition to replacing or lining all of their Gas Distribution Network with polyethylene pipes. Their target is to achieve a fully-PE network just three years after the local pipe upgrade requirement of 2032.

Their 2019 Business Plan showed that they were then already operating a network which was 73% PE.

temporary by-passes being used during a pipe re-lining operation

 

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I must respond to points made by others…

Freedom Project. No this didn’t test hydrogen per se, which therefore didn’t get mentioned in the shortform ‘Final Report’. Nor is there yet any hybrid heat pump which could use hydrogen as a fuel alongside electricity.

But what Freedom did demonstrate was that the Joules required from the gas-input could still be met if hydrogen was piped instead of natural-gas.

 

I think @Glaikit ‘s descriptions of the Orkney energy projects really suggest that a Moderator should venture up there and give us 1st-hand accounts with photo’s. Do @Tim_OVO or @Jess_OVO feel you could tear yourself away from Bristol and camp out on a beautiful island for a week or two?  :wink:

 

Nigel at W&WU tells me:

  1. There are a number of hydrogen projects going on at the moment.  NGN have constructed a mini distribution network and terrace of homes in Cumbria where hydrogen will be tested through pipes as well as the service termination and meter fittings to monitor leakage.
  1. I am involved in a project looking at developing a home hydrogen detector, similar to smoke or CO alarm to provide assurance to customers.
  2. Boiler manufacturers have hydrogen ready boilers and will be bringing to market in the next 4 years at the same cost as gas boilers.

So @Jess_OVO’s link which raises safety concerns in domestic situations is already receiving attention.

And point c implies that Nigel is considering factors about boilers which are not (yet) being met by the Worcester Bosch range. There are other products in development which are deserving of the label ‘hydrogen ready’. See news story here about Baxi testing a hydrogen boiler.

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The Energy Networks Association (ENA) has a growing amount of content on the progress towards de-carbonisation of the gas grid:

 

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Just stumbled across this - a hydrogen testing project which has been awarded funding. Sure this will interest our forward thinking community members here - @juliamc, @Transparent @Glaikit 

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I think this is the same Hy4Heat project which I referred to above as involving Baxi.

The test house in the photos is the same for each story.

Northern Gas Grid hydrogen test site near Gateshead

 

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Just stumbled across this - a hydrogen testing project which has been awarded funding. Sure this will interest our forward thinking community members here - @juliamc@Transparent @Glaikit 

Might be this. https://www.northerngasnetworks.co.uk/ngn-you/the-future/integrel/

Thornley Ln, Blaydon-on-Tyne NE21 6LE

 

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There are trials going further ahead in Leeds under the H21 Project. These will use real houses with hydrogen gas feeds rather than a row of specially-built test-houses.

Collaboration is the game-changer here.

Let’s hope that BEIS appreciate the importance of these technological advances and don’t allow the innovation to be ‘acquired’ by a company under foreign ownership. There’s no point investing in a post-Brexit technical boom if the results can simply be taken over by trading shares for financial gain.

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Sorry if this is a bit long and rambling. I’m an interested private individual, not a scientist or specialist. 

Firstly, as @Tim_OVO says, the social and environmental obligations are all on electricity. Gas is charged 1.86%, Electricity 22.92% . Source: Ofgen, Costs in your energy bill . So it is highly likely that gas will increase in cost per unit if climate change impacts are fed through.

The video above from the Energy Networks Association (thanks @Transparent)  showed different methods of producing the biogas that would be used alongside the hydrogen.  It had a video that showed cattle and said that the gas could be produced from their by-products.  But we’re recommended to eat less meat, so that may not be part of the future. We also don’t have the land to produce crops for biogas - we need the land for food. 

The North East seems to have a lot of energy related developments.  Wardley Biogas, near Gateshead , is part of the future of a gas network. Location on Google Maps .  As we need to reduce our waste, and reuse or recycle more, that will hopefully not be be a major source in future!

BBC Inside Science also discussed Hydrogen in March.

BBC World Service’s The Real Story in June discussed it in detail with some very high-powered executives.

BBC The Bottom Line aired a discussion in March.

It seems that historically, Coal Gas (aka Town Gas) was about 49% hydrogen, so we have a history of transporting it through the gas network.

But you have to produce the hydrogen, and that feels wasteful. The OVO explanatory page about that was useful.  Blue Hydrogen feels a con, because it is reliant on natural gas and unproven carbon capture. Green Hydrogen using Electrolysis is much better so long as it is using renewable resources.  BUT is pumping that through the gas network the best solution? Surely it would be better stored locally and used for peak demand generation of electricity?  Or used for heavy goods vehicles that are depot-based?

The gas network could perhaps be repurposed as conduits for electricity distribution - to make the grid more resilient and higher capacity. Fibre broadband could be put through as well. It would make life a lot simpler if there was only one power source to a house, as @Blastoise186 has found.

I am concerned that some green heating or generating is not wholly green. It seems to me that we shouldn’t be adding energy to the Biosphere where life on earth exists. Whilst greenhouse gases are the current focus, is it the only issue? Coal, oil and gas clearly bring long locked-away energy into the biosphere, plus CO2. Nuclear is not only releasing energy that would have stayed locked up for at least hundreds of thousands of years, and it is creating immense future waste problems. Ground source heat pumps also bring up energy from underground into the Biosphere. The area heating pilot in London covered in one of the BBC programmes is bringing up water at 40 degrees Celsius from the aquifers 200 metres down. 

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