Can hydrogen help us rapidly decarbonise national energy systems?; Can hydrogen help us rapidly decarbonise national energy systems?;

Can hydrogen help us rapidly decarbonise our energy systems?

The hydrogen moment

Four years after the COP21 agreement in Paris, the race to replace fossil fuels in nations’ energy networks is intensifying. As warm words are translated into detailed plans, governments are having to consider every option that might accelerate the transition to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy. Our new report shows that in the U.K. hydrogen will play a significant role in a decarbonised energy future. A model that could be replicated in other economies across the world like Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

In the last two decades the U.K. has made progress in the decarbonisation of its energy system, largely through a switch to wind and solar. Renewables today are competitive on price without subsidy, a major achievement, but 80% of the energy system still relies on fossil fuels. Introducing hydrogen could speed up the decarbonisation process.

New fuel, existing network

In energy, legacy is always a brake on change. Over 20 million existing buildings in the U.K. rely on natural gas (methane) for heating, hot water and cooking. Much of heavy industry still relies on methane or other solid fuels as a feedstock for generating high operating temperatures.  

To kickstart the market, there are already some obvious ways to introduce the fuel into the existing gas network. Some adaptation would be required, but hydrogen can be blended up to 20% into a methane supply with no need to change existing domestic appliances, and market mechanisms could be established by government regulation to help encourage the fuel’s adoption.

At peak times, the U.K.’s gas network can move six times more energy than the electricity network. It offers considerable existing storage and is very efficient and resilient with few unplanned interruptions to supply. So, it makes perfect sense to reuse as much of this infrastructure as possible, whilst replacing methane with hydrogen, rather than try and replicate this functionality in an entirely electric energy system. 

The benefits of hydrogen

  • Transport: hydrogen fuel cell buses and taxis would improve air quality in congested urban environments.

  • Homes: it could mean lower cost adaptation to net zero power than shifting everyone from gas to renewable electricity.

  • Governments: hydrogen could be a quick and effective way of accelerating their ability to meet climate change commitments made.

Clean, green and safe, hydrogen has an exciting role to play powering the UK but needs to be cheaper and more widely available to live up to its potential ” Claire Perry UK Energy and Clean Growth Minister, speaking at an industry event

From viable to desirable

Hydrogen power is clearly viable, credible and desirable. Supply isn’t problematic. In fact, Arup already is working on a number of commissions exploring both production and supply.

The next step is to develop business models and government policies to support its implementation, explaining the benefits to industry, suppliers and consumers. Energy providers and government policy makers need to join forces to explore how hydrogen can unlock their common goals, provide value for the taxpayer and reduce industry risk.

Hydrogen for heat

Hydrogen in our homes

An Arup-led consortium is managing the UK Government’s £25m Hydrogen for Heat programme which will establish if it is technically possible, safe and convenient to replace natural gas (methane) with hydrogen in residential and commercial buildings and gas appliances. The project is exploring public attitudes to changing to hydrogen and ultimately hopes to lead to a demonstration in a residential area.

Production and refuelling in Auckland

Ports of Auckland

The first green hydrogen production and refuelling facility in New Zealand will be built by Ports of Auckland with expert support from Arup. Planned to be operating in Autumn 2020, the ground-breaking project is a partnership between Ports of Auckland, Auckland Council, Auckland Transport, Kiwi Rail and Arup. The facility for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, including port equipment, buses and cars, will be at the Waitematā port.

A world first in Scotland


SGN Group’s H100 project is seeking to demonstrate the world’s first 100% hydrogen distribution network from renewable sources in Scotland. We are providing a project integration role to SGN as well as leading front end engineering design and development for one of the locations being considered by SGN for the 100% hydrogen demonstration network.