power sector, relatively little progress has so far been made to decarbonise heat.
The South Humber area was eventually selected from a short- list for further economic modelling and assessment. This case was particularly interesting as it included three ambitious new hydrogen production projects; two very substantial (2 x 100MW) green hydrogen projects, and another large (700 MW) blue hydrogen project. In addition, the area has several DH net- works currently under consideration. Significant economic, environmental andsocial benefits The study concluded that it is technically feasible to recover heat from new green and blue hydrogen infrastructure without negatively impacting production. It also concluded that heat recovery would actually provide great potential gains in system efficiency, especially for some green hydrogen technologies (14-32% efficiency improvements for the various electrolysers considered). The temperature of the captured heat also proved to be generally compatible with supplying heat networks, par- ticularly newer schemes operating at lower temperatures. The results of the financial assessment were even more en- couraging. Even without an existing DH network in place (as with the South Humber area), the case still proved financially attractive for the hydrogen producer, the heat network oper- ator, and the heat consumers. The heat network option was compared to the best available low carbon heating counter- factual of individual building air source heat pumps. Table 1 - Key results from financial assessment (*compared to counter factual of air source heat pumps)
Part of the explanation for this is that there has so far been little strategic consensus on the most appropriate transition pathway for the sector. There is, for example, still active and heated debate around the relative merits of electrification vs. hydrogen as the best solution to decarbonise heat. In the UK Government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy from 2021, a strate- gic decision on the “role of hydrogen” in heating was effectively postponed until 2026. For better or worse, this uncertainty is making it difficult for stakeholders and investors to make long- term decisions for their business and industry. The impact of continued strategic uncertainty around decar- bonisation of heat is perhaps illustrated by the DH sector. The technology has been around for more than a Century and is widely recognised as a low-regret policy option to decarbonise heating in densely populated areas. A central reason for it be- ing “low-regret” is that not only is it well-established technology, providing the lowest cost Net Zero option to many households, but it also yields opportunities to exploit synergies with both electrification and the hydrogen pathways for space heating. Unfortunately, this fact seems to have been drowned out amidst the noise of the discussion on electrification vs. hydro- gen. This could at least in part explain why DH in the UK today still serves less than 3% of households - compared to for exam- ple over 65% in Denmark. So although great policy strides in the UK are being made, it remains to be seen if the DH sector will end up with the favourable, stable and long-term frame- work conditions that it has been craving for so many years. The study to investigate possible synergies between hydrogen and district heating in the UK context In an attempt to highlight the “low-regret” nature of DH, the Danish Energy Governance Partnership at the Danish Embas- sy in the UK, together with Ramboll UK, decided to launch a study in early 2021. The study was set to investigate possible synergies between evolution of “the hydrogen pathway” and the DH sector and draw inspiration from some promising case studies in Denmark and the Netherlands. To capture the particular circumstances of the UK, the study fo- cused its inquiry on case studies and stakeholder engagement with several geographical “clusters” in the UK where hydrogen production and DH are understood to be rapidly evolving in tandem*. Across each cluster, existing, planned, and potential hydrogen production and DH networks were identified and mapped, and a technical assessment was undertaken to short- list opportunities to capture and utilise hydrogen waste heat.
14% IRR, positive NPV
District neat network operator
>4% IRR, positive NPV
20% reduction in heating cost*
Based on these results, the study firmly concluded that signif- icant economic, environmental, and social benefits are asso- ciated with heat recovery from hydrogen production, and its auxiliary processes. How to reap the benefits? To seize the opportunities that this analysis points to, hydrogen production and centres of high heat demand need to be in proximity to one another. As heat demand is already fixed, the key will thus be to influence the location of new hydrogen pro- duction facilities. This is not a novel undertaking. Most stake- holders across the world are currently contemplating how to best achieve the same end, trying to ensure that this emerging technology, and the ensuing investments, falls in their geogra- phy – be that region, nation, or local authority.
* Cases included: Aberdeen City; Leeds City; the Humber Region (split into Beverley, Hull and South Humber)
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