British Gas primed for major ‘first step’ to swerve blackouts

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Centrica, which owns British Gas, is taking a major step in the UK’s path to ending its reliance on gas, with a pilot plan to inject hydrogen into an emergency gas-fired power station. The trial, which will be launched in the second half of 2023, will help the UK study the role that hydrogen, the most abundant element in the world, to produce power. Centrica Business Solutions will begin injecting hydrogen into its existing gas “peaking plant” at Brigg, Lincolnshire.

A peaking power station is an emergency plant that only produces energy during times of high demand, where the risk of a blackout is high.

This 49MW gas-fired station at Brigg, is designed to meet Britain’s demand during peak times or when the electricity generation from renewables is low, typically operating for less than three hours a day.

The trial is one of the 20 projects that are partly funded by an £8m programme from the Net Zero Technology Centre (NZTC), which receives funding from the UK and Scottish governments, the Guardian reports. 

Last November, HiiROC, the start-up behind the project raised £26million in funding from a collection of investors, which included major players like Centrica, industrial buyout firm Melrose, investment fund HydrogenOne and carmakers Hyundai and Kia.

The scheme will help test how viable it is to mix hydrogen with natural gas in a power plant, which could potentially reduce the overall carbon intensity of the station. 

Initially, Centrica will have about 3 percent of the gas mix comprised of hydrogen, gradually raising it to 20 percent. Eventually, they hope to run the plant using just hydrogen, paving the way for other gas-fired plants to be decarbonised.

Peaking power plants are set to play a crucial role this winter as National Grid unveiled its plans to impose power cuts on households and businesses across the UK this winter if the country is unable to import electricity supplies from Europe.

Under these plans, households in different parts of the country would be notified a day in advance of the three-hour blocks of time during which their power would be cut off, in an effort to lower the UK’s total energy consumption by 5 percent.

The National Grid also warned that in the “unlikely event” that the company fails to secure gas supplies, consumers could face a situation where they are left without power for “pre-defined periods” during the day, in an effort to “ensure the overall security and integrity of the electricity system across Great Britain”.

However, the company warned that planned power cuts would only take place if the electricity imports from Europe were reduced and there were also insufficient gas supplies for power stations.

Experts have hailed hydrogen as a key to helping replace natural gas in the UK, which has driven energy bills to record levels in the past year. Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg has hailed hydrogen as the “silver bullet” solution to tackling the energy crisis. 

Mr Rees-Mogg claimed that with adjustments, hydrogen could be “piped through to people’s houses to heat them during the winter”, although some experts disagree, arguing that hydrogen would be more expensive that heat pumps. 

Speaking exclusively to, Mike Foster from the Energy and Utilities Alliance said: “We think there is a role for all technologies, heat pumps, heat networks and importantly hydrogen because it is the most cost-effective and least disruptive route for the vast majority of people.

“The simple truth is that is easier for the consumer to keep their boiler and just change the gas, otherwise tens of millions of households are going to have their boilers ripped out in this quest to electrify heat and be forced to pay £13,000 and they can’t afford it. So change the gas, keep the boiler.”

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HiiROC, a UK startup founded in 2019, has developed an electrolysis process that can produce hydrogen at lower costs and with lower emissions than other methods.

Their process involves converting biomethane, flare gas or natural gas into hydrogen and carbon black, a byproduct that can be used in tyres, rubbers and printing inks.

Greg McKenna, managing director of Centrica Business Solutions, said: “Gas still plays a huge role in maintaining a secure, stable supply of power in the UK, with around 40 percent of our power coming from natural gas. So, it’s vital that we find ways to reduce the carbon intensity of gas plants like that at Brigg.

“We’re delighted to get the grant funding from the NZTC in order to explore the role of hydrogen in providing the low carbon back-up power we’ll need in order to maintain security of supply as more renewable energy comes on stream.”

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