A Vision for Hydrogen in the South West

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Written by Wales & West Utilities, Co-Sponsor of our Quarterly Conference: Energy Transition: The Challenges and Opportunities, 27th January 2023

The South West has a long history of energy innovation: William Murdoch first demonstrated domestic gas lighting in his home in Redruth in 1792. 230 years later, the region is at the forefront of a developing hydrogen economy.

Wherever we are, delivering Net Zero means adapting how we live, move and work. Some of those changes will go unnoticed, but others mean changes to homes, transport infrastructure and industrial processes which require careful engagement, management coordination.

At Wales & West Utilities, we believe that hydrogen has a vital role to play in the successful development of a decarbonised energy system. There are two fundamental reasons for this; For consumers, hydrogen ready appliances will provide a simpler pathway than alternative solutions for the 85% of homes which rely on gas for heating – and it is one of very few options for many large industrial gas users. At the system level, the scale and seasonality of heating demand means we need storable and dispatchable energy sources to ensure secure year-round supplies.

The potential for hydrogen is becoming increasingly recognised in policy. In 2022, the Energy Security Strategy doubled the UK’s target for low carbon hydrogen production capacity to be delivered by 2030 – and all four regional gas distribution networks were asked to bring forward proposals for areas to rollout hydrogen as a replacement for natural gas. The UK Government continues to endorse zero carbon fuel as a low-impact way to decarbonise our lives.

These policies build on the existing effort to establish the technical, safety and commercial arrangements which will be needed for the transition. For example, WWU is working closely with Northern Gas Networks (NGN) to deliver the Redcar Hydrogen Community, which aims to deliver the first conversion of existing domestic gas customers to 100% hydrogen in 2025. By 2030, the UK’s hydrogen economy could be worth £900 million and create as many as 12,000 jobs, offering huge opportunities across the country.

Delivering those benefits means collaborative working across sectors of the economy and developing new partnerships. Wales & West Utilities is a proud founding member Hydrogen South West (HSW).

HSW connects people, places, and projects, to drive the development of hydrogen infrastructure in the South West. Already a hub for engineering and energy innovation, the area is also home to leading aerospace and transport businesses which recognise the importance of hydrogen to their decarbonisation goals and future business models.

While the opportunities are huge, we also need to ensure a fair and just transition which works for all. Last year, Wales & West Utilities published new analysis and recommendations to ensure that all customers – including those in vulnerable situations – are supported through the transition to hydrogen. It also details key steps to increase the likelihood of customer acceptance and ways to minimise the impact on customer’s daily lives.

The report, Inclusive Innovation – Safeguarding the Switch to Domestic Hydrogen has been shared with the other UK gas networks and organisations to help inform customer engagement strategies. It will also inform the customer engagement strategy for projects like the Redcar Hydrogen Community, and our hydrogen transition planning for the South West and Wales.

Already the spiritual home of the gas industry, the south west is set to play an equally prominent role in delivering the hydrogen vision. The area has a unique cluster of business, energy, and industrial expertise, and we are proud to be at the heart of it. We are keen to continue to connect with businesses, local authorities, and organisations such as SWBC and HSW to build the partnerships that will fuel our future together.