A location on Northern Gas Networks’ grid has been deemed suitable for installing a 50-100MW electrolyser to convert electricity into hydrogen.
The site, at Low Thornley, in Gateshead in north-east England, has been identified through a feasibility study undertaken by ITM, a UK provider of hydrogen production and refuelling systems, working with the gas utility.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) funded study isolated sites capable of hosting 50MW energy storage capacity upwards, for gas customers, within the boundaries of Northern Gas Networks’ (NGN) gas distribution network that spans north and north-east England.
The study, which began in November 2017, whittled suitable locations down to four. Low Thornley was then identified as the best, as it is able to support power-to-gas (P2G) conversion year-round, through winter peak periods and lower demand in the summer months. Hydrogen injected at Low Thornley would deliver stored energy in the form of low carbon gas to over 243,000 customers.
P2G technology is an alternative way to produce hydrogen in large quantities. The other method is from steam reforming, which uses natural gas and requires carbon sequestration. Most commercial P2G systems have capacities of up to a few megawatts. An electrolyser in the 50-100MW range would demonstrate the technology’s potential at scale.
To date the largest hydrogen electrolysis plant being built is a 10MW facility. ITM Power is supplying Shell with the technology at its Rhineland refinery, which will cost €20 million, though this includes the expense of integrating the equipment within the refinery.
Low Thornley, owned by NGN, is a 15 acre site hosting the Integrated Transport Electricity and Gas Research Laboratory (INTEGREL) facility. The site, which is supplied with electricity via the regional power network owned by Northern Power Grid (NPG), was initially used to test conversion to natural gas from town gas.
In addition Low Thornley’ s close proximity to the A1 road and Newcastle and Gateshead makes it suitable for locally exporting hydrogen to extend a national network of local hydrogen refuelling stations, enabling fuel cell electric vehicles to travel from London to Aberdeen.
Next steps include establishing the cost to build, install, commission and demonstrate the facility.
Bridging gas and electricity networks
With P2G technology the INTEGREL project will be able to explore the interplay between the two distinct energy networks – electricity and gas – which has not been done previously before.
P2G can take electricity from a constrained network and convert it into hydrogen to inject into the gas grid, where the storage capacity is 7-10 times more than that of the electricity grid, as well as use the gas for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
“Other than steam methane reforming, P2G has an important role to play in allowing the INTEGREL project to fully explore the interdependencies between gas, which provides the majority of our heating needs in the UK, electricity and transport,” says David Gill, director of NGN’s stakeholder relations.
The INTEGREL project was launched in September 2017, but it will take a year to 18 months to establish the core facilities and demonstration areas that will simulate a whole systems approach to decarbonising electricity, gas, heating and road transport, including lorries as well as cars.
Plans include replicating local housing stock on part of the site, which will be connected up to various types of low carbon heating sources and other technologies.
NGN has provided the land for the facility which has an approximate value of £10 million (€11.3 million) and the Centre for Integrated Energy Systems (CESI), at Newcastle University, has committed to provide at least double that amount in funding for projects at the site over the next five years. NPG is also taking part in the project.
The results of INTEGREL has potential to influence future government policy decisions on decarbonising heat. According to the Committee on Climate Change, heating and hot water for buildings make up around 40% of the UK’s energy consumption and 20% of its greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gas is the main source of heating.
Plans for INTEGREL
In addition to the P2G system installation, plans for the site include a research and innovation centre, where scientists and engineers, from the gas and power distribution sectors, as well as relevant industrial firms can collaborate.
Other projects at the site, which will be overseen by NPG, include vehicle-to-grid charging using Nissan LEAF cars, as well as a 250kW battery installation, which will be used for grid balancing studies.
A key part of INTEGREL is combining NGN’s and Northern Power Grid’s control centres under one roof, so to speak, so that each utility can see what is going on in each other’s network, with trades occurring across each.
There is also the opportunity to build solar PV and wind turbines at the site, which could potentially feed surplus generation into the electrolyser to demonstrate production of carbon neutral hydrogen.
Gill says: “We are advanced in terms of speaking to each other. We share the same customers but we have different strengths and different constraints and can help each other. NPG has a responsive network but with limited capacity, and NGN has a reliable network with huge storage potential.”
As part of the feasibility study to identify suitable locations for the P2G system, areas of existing network constraint on the electricity distribution network were identified and the system balancing mechanisms in use by the system operator were reviewed.
Other suitable benefits of Low Thornley include the potential for detailed analysis of pressure, gas flows, as well as seasonal variations in demand and grid infrastructure.
Hydrogen production and efficiency data was taken from ITM Power’s existing electrolysers and extrapolated to provide a list of hydrogen production rates up to 100MW size that could accommodate hydrogen injection at 20% volume.
Sites were then categorised based on their ability to support the volumes of hydrogen energy produced by electrolysis at different scales and gas demand conditions, throughout the year.