Building Britain’s first hydrogen village


The building blocks are being put in place for the first 100% hydrogen use Village-scale trial in Britain by 2025.

In an open letter from the regulator Ofgem to the four gas distribution network operators, we get the first glimpse of what the Village trial will look like.

Up to 2,000 homes and other buildings are expected to participate using hydrogen for cooking, hot water and heating – the latter where low carbon hydrogen is anticipated to have the greatest decarbonisation potential – for at least 12 months.

An existing gas network infrastructure in the local area will need to be converted and repurposed for 100% hydrogen. The trial also will need to include a wide range of consumers and building types.

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Some of the key issues for learnings are the extent to which Britain’s existing gas network can be repurposed and operated with 100% hydrogen, the costs and practical requirements involved in such conversion and whether there may be seasonal or weather impacts either on conversion or the hydrogen use.

Then there is the all-important consumer acceptability of hydrogen and the experiences across the diversity of users in different building types, both during the conversion process and on a day to day basis that will be sought.

As far as location goes, the trial could be anywhere within England, Scotland or Wales – and the network operators need to start thinking about it now. Outline designs must be completed and applications for funding to undertake detailed designs submitted before the end of 2021.

Beyond that, however, the full final timeline is yet to be confirmed but the current thinking is that applications for the preparation and build stage will be required by Q2 of 2023 in anticipation of the trial going operational no later than mid-2025.

H100 Fife

Of the various projects underway, a key input for the Village trial will be SGN’s smaller neighbourhood scale H100 Fife trial at Levenmouth on the east coast of Scotland.

A demonstration facility, which will enable local residents to see and experience hydrogen appliances in a home-like setting prior to opting into participation, is due to be completed in March 2022.

In the first phase, the network will heat around 300 local homes using 100% green hydrogen produced by a dedicated electrolysis plant, powered by a nearby offshore wind turbine.

Those initial 300 customers will receive a free hydrogen connection, free replacement hydrogen appliances and free maintenance over the length of the project, which is due to run to March 2027. They will pay the same amount for the hydrogen as they would pay for natural gas.

In the second phase, the customer base will be expanded up to 1,000 buildings.

“Hydrogen is an exciting energy vector that at scale could provide similar levels of safe, secure, reliable and affordable energy to what we enjoy now, with minimal disruption for customers,” says Angus McIntosh, Director of Energy Futures at SGN.

“The project will provide key national evidence for hydrogen’s role in the UK’s energy transition and critical insight into the customer value proposition of hydrogen for heat”.

The project with a £21 million ($29 million) cost is claimed a first to employ a direct supply of clean power to produce hydrogen for domestic heating. An on-site storage unit will hold enough hydrogen to ensure supply won’t be disrupted during even the coldest weather conditions.

H21 and HyDeploy

Ofgem expects the network operators to work together in the Village trial to avoid unnecessary duplication and collaborate on areas of common interest, such as on risk assessments.

Some other projects at key stages of development that will feed into the Village trial are Northern Gas Networks and Cadent’s H21 and HyDeploy.

H21 is a suite of gas industry projects aimed to demonstrate that the existing gas network can be converted to transport 100% hydrogen. As part of the initiative, which envisages conversion to begin in 2028 and expand across 3.7 million properties in the north of England by 2035, a 1km test distribution grid has just been completed by DNV at its test and research facility in Cumbria.

HyDeploy on the other hand is focused on hydrogen blending, which offers the fastest opportunity to phase in the use of hydrogen.

The main phase of the project just given the go-ahead will supply up to 20% blended hydrogen on the natural gas network to almost 700 homes, schools and small businesses in Winlaton, Gateshead in northeast England.

In this case, the participants will continue to use gas as they do today, without any changes needed to appliances or pipework as the current appliances are designed to operate with a blend of up to 23% hydrogen.

A key issue to enable the project to proceed was around the safety of a hydrogen blend with the current limit for the UK gas networks set at 0.1%.

In the first phase, which was completed in March, 100 homes and around 30 commercial buildings at Keele University, one of the project partners, used a hydrogen blend for a period of 18 months.

Show homes

In its investigations, Northern Gas Networks determined that customer awareness of hydrogen was limited and that being able to see and interact with hydrogen appliances would be one of the most powerful things to help with hydrogen adoption.

This led the company and Cadent to build hydrogen show homes at its innovation site near Gateshead.

Sian Fletcher, Communications lead at Northern Gas Networks, has reported that these have received significant interest from across society and are being found to be an effective engagement and educational tool.