UK Government set to approve hydrogen trial despite protests from locals

The scheme would be the largest hydrogen trial of its size in the country as gas companies look to prove that hydrogen can be used within current gas infrastructure.

Annabel Cossins-Smith November 17 2023

The UK Government is set to approve a landmark hydrogen heating trial in Redcar, a small town in North Yorkshire, despite growing opposition from locals.

Energy Secretary Clair Coutinho is “minded to approve” the contentious scheme, with a firm announcement expected to come within the next few weeks, the Telegraph reports.

Northern Gas Networks (NGN), the company responsible for distributing gas to homes and businesses across northern England, will run the project, which would supply around 2,000 homes and businesses in parts of Redcar with 100% hydrogen to replace traditional gas heating and cooking systems.

If approved, the scheme would be the largest hydrogen trial of its size in the country as gas companies look to prove that hydrogen can be used within current gas infrastructure. “Hydrogen can be used in the same way as natural gas but it doesn’t create carbon when burned, meaning it could be compatible with future targets to tackle climate change,” NGN said in a statement.

A similar trial proposed by gas company Cadent, also due to be held in North Yorkshire in the town of Whitby, near Ellesmere Port, was called off in July after residents objected to the project, claiming they felt like “lab rats”.

Public opposition to hydrogen stems mainly from safety concerns as hydrogen is colourless and odourless, highly flammable and burns invisibly, making leaks and fires more difficult to detect. However, some organisations argue that when handled properly and responsibly, green hydrogen is less dangerous than other flammable fuels used today.

Justin Madders, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston, said about the Whitby trial: “It is clear that asking people to try experimental new forms of energy consumption for their homes will not work unless basic questions about safety, efficacy and cost can be answered from the start.”

It is still possible that ongoing public opposition to the Redcar project will see the plans thrown out. Ministers have said that they will not approve the trial without community support, but it is understood that Coutinho is concerned about the UK falling behind other European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands in introducing hydrogen heating.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Department for Energy Security told the Telegraph that no final decision on the Redcar trial had been made.

Zero-emissions alternatives to hydrogen heating, such as electric heat pumps, are already being implemented across the UK, although government targets to install 600,000 heat pumps by 2028 are currently looking unlikely to be met as uptake of the technology remains slow.

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