Focus on hydrogen's contribution to a low carbon future for Leeds


The establishment of a hydrogen network in Leeds could play a central role in a new low carbon energy network, but the speed of electrification and source of hydrogen gas pose questions about its potential as a successful contributor to a low carbon future.

These are the findings of the first Leeds Climate Commission position paper, which examines hydrogen conversion in the city in the context of Leeds’ low carbon ambitions.

Leeds is working towards being carbon neutral by 2030 and the position paper examines the potential benefits and risks presented by hydrogen and the H21 (Hydrogen) Leeds City Gate project in the context of the city’s long-term future.

The paper sets out a number of potential opportunities relating to greater deployment of hydrogen in the energy mix, including the potential for hydrogen as a replacement for natural gas in heating and cooking, and as an alternative transport fuel.

Other benefits include an improvement in air quality from low emission transport as well as further economic development.

The paper also considers the potential to generate hydrogen from renewable energy sources such as biogases, including surplus renewable energy, in the context of a global supply system.

Challenges associated with hydrogen are summarised in the position paper, which points to the risks associated with hydrogen and acceptance issues with the public, along with disruption to householders caused by having to change over domestic appliances such as fires, cookers, boilers.

The costs of hydrogen conversion, along with the funding model for it and maintaining consumer choice are all raised as issues and the paper draws attention to the need to compare overall national and local economic costs and benefits with other approaches.

A project such as Leeds’ H21 project is effectively a national infrastructure project, since hydrogen conversion could not happen in only one part of the UK. This would require a national policy response and, potentially, additional legislative intervention, not just in terms of hydrogen conversion but also for the roll out of  Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

This centralised approach could stifle innovation from more decentralised energy options and operators and may stunt the pursuit of energy demand reduction, which is also needed.

A key question remains about the carbon impact of hydrogen conversion in relation to electrification of heat, and the time it takes for this to be introduced. A ‘Carbon Roadmap’ for Leeds, produced by Leeds Climate Commission, estimates that switching the heating network to decarbonised hydrogen would close the gap between current emissions and carbon neutrality by 8%. However, if heating was electrified (with electricity coming from renewables) the carbon benefits of switching to hydrogen would be reduced or negated if hydrogen adoption is slow or electrification happens quickly.

A frequent criticism of hydrogen conversion is that it relies currently on fossil fuels. The position paper states that the H21 project would only be considered a successful contributor to a low carbon future for the city of Leeds when it is less reliant on methane (or any other non-renewable fossil fuel).

The paper, which refers to the “huge challenge” of developing a decarbonised energy system, concludes by recommending eight collaborative actions to further the decision making process.

Read the position paper.