A North Yorkshire community accused a gas provider of “greenwashing” before a crucial hydrogen village decision.
NGN is hoping to host a two-year government-funded trial in Redcar, Teesside, to replace gas with “green” hydrogen in 2,000 houses.
The corporation is “eager” to work in the neighbourhood and has been “liaising with people and businesses” to build its goals.
As NGN donated tens of thousands of pounds to local causes, critics worry the business is conducting a “charm offensive” to win over communities and quiet fuel worries.
The gas business has sponsored a girl’s football club, donated thousands to charity, helped clear up waste, and set up a “hydrogen centre” on the high street where homeowners can discuss heating with personnel.
Calvin Lawson, Friends of the Earth’s North East regional campaigns organiser, said NGN was manipulating Redcar residents.
NGN says that renewable hydrogen offers a safe, low-carbon alternative to natural gas, which the government plans to phase out in all UK homes by 2035.
Decarbonize UK home heating. Gas heats 85% of UK houses and emits 15% of greenhouse gases.
Green hydrogen created from renewable energy is needed to decarbonize heavy industries, where greenhouse gas emissions are harder to remove, but it is not suitable for residential heating.
Hydrogen is inefficient, expensive, and resource-intensive compared to alternative low-carbon heating options like heat pumps, according to a 36-study assessment.
NGN wants to run the trial in Redcar, whereas Cadent wants to run a comparable study in Ellesmere Port, Whitby, Cheshire. The government announced that no trial will proceed without strong local backing after a reaction in Whitby over safety and consultation issues. All eyes are now on Redcar.
Trial bids ended last week. Ofgem and the newly established Department for Energy Security and Net Zero will choose the winning experiment later this year, which ministers will use to shape their hydrogen heating strategy.
Rowan McLaughlin, an environmentalist from Saltburn-by-the-Sea in Redcar, called hydrogen heating “scary”.
Redcar residents cannot opt out, unlike Whitby. The 2,000 trial area homeowners in Whitby might use natural gas or hydrogen for heating.
NGN claims community support after a fall survey indicated that 76% of roughly 700 residents and landlords supported the scheme.
The survey pushed contentious claims. Hydrogen was pushed as a “green” alternative to gas for home heating in several videos. Hydrogen doesn’t emit carbon when burned, however splitting water with renewable electricity to make it is carbon intensive.
One survey video claimed that hydrogen burns cleanly and produces merely water. This only applies when fuel cells burn hydrogen. “Harmful in its own right and is a precursor to other pollutants of concern like as fine particulate matter and ozone,” nitrogen oxides (NOx) are produced when hydrogen is burned for heating, according to a 2021 article.
Explain Market Research, based in Newcastle, surveyed Redcar for National Grid, Cadent, Northern Power Grid, SGN, Wales and West Utilities, and UK Power Networks. These firms support hydrogen heating.
Some locals informed DeSmog that the survey did not allow for hydrogen safety concerns and was provided to them before they learned more about the fuel.
For the past 10 months, NGN has engaged Redcar’s 70,000 people through well-funded outreach with sports clubs, colleges, and charities.
The corporation started a £20,000 social initiative fund in October. Melanie Taylor, head of stakeholder engagement, said NGN wants to “lead from the front” and “increase our involvement in the local region immediately”.
The company sponsored a “guess the goods in a hydrogen car” game that contributed supplies to the Redcar foodbank. NGN personnel have led volunteer litter-picks and paid for tours of a Gateshead hydrogen-powered home prototype run by NGN, Cadent, and the UK government. Rudd was “flabbergasted” that the corporation did not understand the irony of donating to the local foodbank.
NGN has stated that replacing gas boilers with hydrogen boilers would not cost trial area subscribers. The corporation has yet to address locals’ concerns regarding the trial’s conclusion in 2027.
Redcar Town FC’s Under-13 girls football squad received water bottles and a training kit with the “Redcar Hydrogen Network with Northern Gas Networks” emblem from NGN. The team thanked you on Facebook.
NGN also targeted hydrogen participant Redcar and Cleveland College. The company’s trial Facebook group depicts a smiling headteacher at the Gateshead trial home.
The corporation was “more bent on pushing options that fit their own financial interest rather than assisting communities and doing the greatest thing for the climate emergency,” according to Andrew Simms, co-director of New Weather Institute, an interdisciplinary climate think tank.
Hydrogen has been pushed at Labour and Conservative party conventions.
By 2030, the government pledged 10GW of low-carbon hydrogen. In late March, UK “hydrogen advocate” Jane Toogood, the CEO of a chemicals firm that markets hydrogen technologies, encouraged governments to support the blending of hydrogen into the UK gas network by the end of the year if the technology can be shown safe.
The government’s hydrogen home heating strategy is unclear despite signals of interest. It has only supported small-scale trials.
Teesside politicians support the Redcar experiment. Redcar and Cleveland Tory MP Jacob Young chaired the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hydrogen from February 2020 to October 2022 and advocated for hydrogen heating. He called Teesside “the epicentre for hydrogen technology in the UK” and helped NGN launch its “hydrogen hub” in November to promote the Redcar trial.
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen called the Redcar study a “world-leading, first-of-its type research programme.”
Redcar was shortlisted because of its closeness to the East Coast industrial cluster, which is backed by BP and would create 15% of the government’s 2030 hydrogen target in green and blue hydrogen.
The fossil fuel firm is decarbonizing “the UK’s biggest industrial cluster” in Teesside by investing in blue and green hydrogen hubs with NGN, Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, and Tees Valley Combined Authority.
The 2021 memorandum of understanding between BP and NGN promises “a number of studies to ensure that the hydrogen production facility is well located to meet the demands of industrial and home consumers in the Teesside area”.
Green hydrogen is created with sustainable energy like wind or solar power, while blue hydrogen uses fossil gas and carbon capture to store emissions.
NGN says it will utilise “predominantly” green hydrogen but may use other, more polluting sources “from time to time”.
If Redcar is chosen, residents can choose between hydrogen and electric heating. Several have stated they have received little information regarding the finances and practicalities of using a heat pump, an electrical device that absorbs heat from the air, ground, or water surrounding a structure.
Heat pumps are more eco-friendly and economically beneficial than hydrogen, according to experts. The International Energy Agency (IEA) reported in November 2022 that replacing gas with heat pumps is cheaper and more energy efficient than hydrogen and biomass.
Recent tests suggest heat pumps are three and a half times more efficient than gas and hydrogen boilers.
An online industry-funded campaign also urges the government to support hydrogen heating.
In October 2018, network wholesalers and manufacturers Cadent and Northern Gas Networks introduced Hello Hydrogen. Worcester Bosch “hydrogen ready” zero carbon boilers are advertised on the website.
Cadent strategy director Angela Needle leads the campaign. The hydrogen village pilot uses 100% green hydrogen, however this campaign blends 20% hydrogen into the gas grid.
Several of the group’s Facebook and Instagram ads say that “Hydrogen for home heating will help tackle climate change,” which some climate scientists reject.
After Whitby, Redcar citizens have written to councillors to arrange a hydrogen trial debate and vote. Campaigners worry May local council elections will delay political action.