Are Scots in H100 Fife trial being kept in the dark over safety and costs of hydrogen in the home?
The £32 million H100 Fife demonstration project will bring 100 per cent green hydrogen gas to customers for the first time, with householders in the Levenmouth area invited to sign up.
Those opting in will be fitted out with a new hydrogen boiler and zero-carbon appliances for free, as well as receiving £1,000 for taking part.
It’s expected around 300 homes will be selected to join the experiment, led by gas network provider SGN, with participants paying no more for their hydrogen supply than natural gas while benefiting from free servicing and maintenance of appliances throughout the duration of the scheme.
The first homes are expected to be connected this year, with the trial running until March 2027.
But oil and gas expert Tom Baxter, a visiting professor at the University of Strathclyde and member of the non-profit Hydrogen Science Coalition – a group of academics and engineers who seek to dispel what they say are exaggerations of the element’s potential – has fears over the safety of hydrogen in homes due to its volatility and susceptibility to leakage.
Baxter, a chemical engineer with more than 40 years of experience in the oil and gas industry, says hydrogen is “inherently less safe than natural gas from a fire and explosion standpoint” and is “more prone to leaking”.
After examining UK government advice on domestic usage of the gas, he believes the risks are too great.
“As an engineer I’m used to looking at the safety of hydrocarbons, but figures presented by the UK government definitely don’t demonstrate to me that this is safe,” he said.
“If you just compare natural gas and hydrogen, it’s four times more likely you could be killed by hydrogen in your house.
“They suggest measures to make it safer – like a non-closable vent in your kitchen, fitting excess flow valves and moving the meter, which can be a source of leaks, outdoors.
“However, even with these in place you’re still three times more likely to get an explosion or a fire in the house but they argue that the safety measures mean the hydrogen gas cloud will be smaller and so you’re less likely to get injured.
“Would you buy a car if the salesman said it will crash more often but you won’t be as badly hurt?”
He also contends that the cost of hydrogen will be much higher than natural gas due to the way it is produced – renewable electricity is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis.
He believes “residents are being seduced to take part in a trial that is not in the interests of the consumer”.
He said: “Have the people of Fife been properly informed of all the safety and cost implications?
“Levenmouth is one of the most deprived areas of Scotland.
“If you’re going in there and offering people £1,000, shiny new appliances and telling them hydrogen is safe, and they’re just trying to make ends meet, do they have time to research hydrogen?
“They’re thinking, ‘This big company is telling me it’s safe’.
“What do you think they are going to do?
“They are going to take that £1,000 and get that stuff in because they’re being told it’s just the same as natural gas.”
SGN has said it is in the process of submitting a Safety Dossier to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), expected to be complete in the first half of this year.
The company said the price of hydrogen would depend on getting the gas “properly up and running as an industry”, which will make it cheaper to produce – as seen with wind and solar power.
A spokesperson said the UK government’s recent pledge to invest £400 million in hydrogen projects over the next three years is “a clear indication of progress in this space”.
More than 270 households in Fife have applied to take part in the trial.
SGN’s Chris Park, H100 Fife project director, said: “We’re working alongside the other gas networks and the UK and Scottish governments to build an evidence base for hydrogen which could shape the way we heat our homes in the future alongside other renewable technologies.
“H100 Fife is a critical part of that and will be the world’s first 100 per cent green hydrogen-to-homes network.
“We’re delighted with the support we’re received from the Levenmouth community and look forward to demonstrating the potential for the wider gas network to safely deliver hydrogen gas.”
Funders of the project include the Scottish Government, which provided a £6.9 million grant, and UK energy regulator Ofgem, which has agreed to hand over up to £18 million.
Scotland’s new draft energy strategy sets out a limited role for hydrogen in providing home heating, despite plans to produce 5GW of production capacity by 2030, rising to 25GW.
It states: “We do not consider that hydrogen will play a central role in the overall decarbonisation of domestic heat.”
But energy minister Gillian Martin expressed enthusiastic support for H100 Fife, which she says will “help understand the role hydrogen can play in decarbonising heat using the gas network”.
She said: “Hydrogen will play a key role complementing electricity in industrial decarbonisation, transport and heating our buildings as we transition to net zero.
“Hydrogen’s use as an energy supply is not new; however, its supply for domestic heating is new and needs to be demonstrated.”
She added: “I had the pleasure of visiting the site last year and hearing about this exciting project, and I look forward to seeing it demonstrate the potential of hydrogen for households.”
The trial will also gauge “customer acceptance and interest in hydrogen”, SGN said, “providing vital insight into any future mandating of hydrogen conversion”.
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