People living in a village on the Wirral peninsula will no longer be forced into a hydrogen heating experiment following a u-turn by gas pipe giant Cadent. Tony McDonough reports
Gas distribution giant Cadent will no longer be forcing 2,000 households in a village in Ellesmere Port to convert their heating from gas to hydrogen.
As part of the multi-billion pound HyNet hydrogen project, Whitby, which is within the Wirral peninsula, was selected to take part in an experiment and become a so-called ‘hydrogen village’.
This would see Cadent, which operates much of the UK’s gas distribution network, install a new pipe network in the town that would carry hydrogen produced at the nearby Stanlow oil refinery into people’s homes to provide heating.
Under the original plan, every household in Whitby would see their gas boilers removed and replaced with hydrogen-enabled boilers. The experiment would begin in 2026 when HyNet begins producing hydrogen.
However, now Cadent and British Gas have written to all the residents in the village to say anyone who doesn’t want to take part can opt out and keep their gas boiler.
This proposed two-year trail has been heavily criticised by multiple independent energy experts. Earlier this year hundreds of residents packed into Ellesmere Port Civic Hall for a public meeting.
They heard from experts both in favour and against the trial. Energy analyst Michael Liebreich and University of Cambridge mechanical engineering professor David Cebon pointed to 37 independent studies showing that hydrogen was an inefficient way to heat domestic homes.
It has been shown that hydrogen heating is far less efficient than heat pumps, which many experts say are the best alternative as we move away from gas boilers.
If you inject one unit of hydrogen into a boiler you will only generate around half a unit of heat. However, a unit of electricity into a heat pump will produce around three units of heat.
Even David Parkin, HyNet project director, conceded this point in an interview with LBN in September 2022. He said: “People will say heat pumps are more efficient than hydrogen and it is hard to argue with the basic physics of that.”
This latest offer of an opt-out to Whitby residents comes after 10 months of public consultations. Results of that feedback will contribute to Cadent’s final submission of the project to the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero shortly.
Cadent is now promising to lay a parallel gas main in Whitby. This means the existing gas main will carry hydrogen while the new pipe will continue to supply natural gas to homes who make that preference.
Marc Clarke, head of hydrogen customer at Cadent Gas, said: “We have been in listening mode throughout this entire consultation period. We have heard a lot of things that residents like about the programme and equally things that they would like us to change.
“At Cadent, we are accountable to the 11m customers we serve and their feedback shapes and guides how we operate every single day. The Hydrogen Village programme is no different.
“There has been a broad church of opinions that have come from right across the local community. This input is vitally important to how we shape our plans and submission, and we have always stated that we will only do what is right for the community.”
Projects such as HyNet are being seen as a vital component of the Government’s plan to the UK’s net zero future. However, its initial viability rests on carbon capture and storage, a technology that is still to be proven at scale.
On Monday, LBN reported that the start date for HyNet had slipped from 2025 to 2026. Further down the line it is hoped the project will pivot towards so-called ‘green hydrogen’. This is produced from renewable energy rather than natural gas.