Could hydrogen peaking plants plug the generation gap?

Could hydrogen peaking plants plug the generation gap?

By Grant Young, Siteworks Manager, Energy Assets

Hydrogen has long been touted as a key contributor to reducing reliance on fossil fuels, particularly in domestic heat and heavy-duty transportation.

In both sectors, proof of concept projects are underway. At Ellesmere Port, around 2,000 homes in the Whitby area are being transitioned into the UK’s first Hydrogen Village. This could be an important milestone in the journey to net zero, particularly with the proposed ban on natural gas boilers in new residential developments from 2024 in Scotland and 2025 in England and Wales.

Meanwhile, in the industrial and commercial arena, the focus for hydrogen seems mostly to be on energy intensive industrial processes, and on trains and trucks.

So, what about the potential for hydrogen in energy generation to help meet the country’s growing electrification needs?

Moving the power generation needle toward net zero

National Grid’s energy dashboard shows in real time how the UK is generating its power. Over the last year, on average the electricity needs of the country were met by fossil fuels (43%), renewables (34.2%) and other sources, such as nuclear and biomass (23.7%). The contribution of nuclear (currently 16.9%) will grow as sites such as Hinkley Point C – and the new Sizewell C station announced in the Autumn Statement – come on stream.

However, reliance on renewables – particularly wind, which accounts for 28.4% of electricity – does raise a question over supply when the turbines don’t turn. Currently, in times of a shortfall, natural gas peaking plants can be called on to inject more power into the network. This flexible generation is an area where the Energy Assets Siteworks team possesses considerable experience and expertise…and this knowledge could be put to good use in a new hydrogen era.

The case for hydrogen peaking plants

Recent industry research underlines the potential role that hydrogen could play as an alternative to gas-fired peaking plants on the road to net zero.   

This is worth investigation because even with current plans to boost energy infrastructure, it’s estimated that fossil fuel peaking plants could still be generating around 1% of the UK’s total power output in 2035. The aim should be to generate sufficient green hydrogen (hydrogen from renewables) to power peaking plants when there’s a need to make up a shortfall in solar, wind or stored power.

Interest in hydrogen is certainly ramping up, thanks in part to the government’s Hydrogen Strategy announced August 2021, which now includes a commitment to provide 10GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030.

Transferring skills for zero emissions power generation

Our Siteworks team have been involved in the peaking plant sector for a number of years, with our specialist design expertise enabling the construction of more than 40 schemes.

This capability – together with Energy Assets Construction’s network installation capability – positions us strongly to deliver a true ‘end-to-end’ service for peaking plant customers. The good news is that our core design skills can transfer to this emerging market, and we already know that the pipe networks we’re installing are future proofed to carry hydrogen.

There’s more investigation needed into the metering and network specifications that can support hydrogen peaking plans, but as one of the leading utility network design and construction companies in this sector, we’re ideally placed to work with partners on infrastructure innovations that can help decarbonise power generation.

Energy Assets’ Siteworks team partners with developers, energy suppliers, energy consultants and embedded generation providers to help energise Britain’s infrastructure. As a fast-growing leader in metering services, asset management and multi-utility construction, we provide an end-to-end service covering design, planning, project management and network build.

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