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Engineering Challenges in the Hydrogen Economy – Conference

Last week, Chris Parker, one of our technical consultants attended an Institute of Mechanical Engineers conference on the “Engineering Challenges in the Hydrogen Economy”. We thought we would share some of the discussion points from the conference through this news post with our engineering peers.

The conference was attended by experts from a range of industries including:

  • Power Generation
  • Automotive
  • Marine
  • Rail
  • Gas and Oil
  • Network Services
  • Building Services

Natural gas currently provides an average 848 TWh of energy to the UK market every year. If this was to be replaced with Green Hydrogen for like-for-like end user energy, 51 additional Hinkley Point C sized nuclear reactors would be required to produce the quantity of hydrogen with the best performing electrolysers. The scale of the electricity challenge can also be measured as 6 times the current wind power capacity of the country. There are no technical limitations to this only time and money preventing such an investment. It would be the largest peace time investment in human history.

There are certain industries that will need green hydrogen in the future; agriculture and marine propulsion to name a few but to ease the scale of green hydrogen generation certain sectors that have traditionally relied on natural gas will have to transition to an alternative.

Heating, which accounts for 38% (322 TWh) of natural gas use, can be decarbonised through alternative technologies such as heat pumps. This would transition the energy vector to electricity however, this opens the opportunity to discuss the significant challenge of the National Grid’s capability. The National Grid and UK power generation is currently at capacity therefore, limiting the widescale electrification of a crucial sector. If the transition is not managed correctly, we may find additional combined cycle gas fired turbines being installed to boost the electricity capacity for our electrification ambitions; thereby shifting the gas use and providing a false sense of greenhouse gas reduction. Major political decisions need to be made by Westminster in the coming years to address this issue.

We need to be clear about the issues of electrification versus natural gas retention. It is not an instant tick in the green credentials checklist but can compound a wider electricity issue that will hold back grid decarbonisation and energy security.

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