Skip to content

FES 2020–Hydrogen Scenario

July 30, 2020

By Paul Homewood


A quick look now at the second core scenario of the Future Energy Scenarios, named “System Transformation”, essentially the high hydrogen option:


FES main report

Electricity consumption is about a fifth down on the Consumer Transformation scenario, which we looked at the other day. However the electricity mix is similar with a heavy reliance on wind power.

The big difference is the reliance on hydrogen for a half of final energy consumption. Of this, 89% of the hydrogen is produced by steam reforming from natural gas.

Electrolysis is regarded as no more than a niche operation, mopping up surplus wind power for use in aviation and shipping, partly because of its greater purity. This rather puts the kybosh on some of the exaggerated claims made about electrolysis recently.

According to the FES, steam reforming is favoured not only because of its lower cost, but also because of the need for a reliable, large scale supply. Demand will be much greater in winter, which will necessitate ramping up of steam reforming production in addition to seasonal storage in salt caverns.

The FES document brings up some interesting facts about hydrogen:

1) Natural gas consumption will still remain substantial in 2050, at 651 Twh, compared to the current 877 TWh.

2) Converting gas to hydrogen is an extremely energy inefficient process. Natural gas input of 654 TWh only produces 527 TWh of hydrogen, a loss of 20%. In my view, that is extremely optimistic, given that carbon capture would also have to be added.

3) Currently 71% of annual gas consumption is during Q1 and Q4:


FES suggest that steam reforming plants could double up output during these months, but this would involve massive inefficiencies during the rest of the year with plants semi idle.

Even with this, FES notes the need for seasonal storage, which the CCC estimated would cost £6bn a year.

4) The CCC have already estimated that the cost of producing hydrogen via steam reforming would cost £44/MWh, compared to an equivalent cost of £15/MWh for natural gas (wholesale).

With consumption of hydrogen projected at 563 TWh, this would potentially increase costs by £16.3bn a year. (A small amount of hydrogen goes to transport, so comparison would need to be made with diesel costs here.) This does not cover the one off cost of converting appliances and upgrading distribution networks.

Finally, it is worth looking at what FES has to say about HGVs:

Electrification is greatest in Consumer Transformation but is limited by high infrastructure costs for HGV charging facilities (such as catenary wires on motorways), and current weight and volume considerations mean batteries are not feasible for the largest vehicles.

An interesting statement, considering the report out this week about electrifying the motorways!

  1. tim leeney permalink
    July 30, 2020 12:11 pm

    Just burning natural gas produces the same amount of carbon dioxide as steam reforming it to make hydrogen, but produces much more usable energy, without all the costs of the reforming operation, let alone converting all or part of the country to use hydrogen instead of natural gas.

    • JimW permalink
      July 30, 2020 12:33 pm

      Yes, I was thinking this is even more mindless than normal. Why the hell would anyone burn all that gas to creat hydrogen, instead of just using the gas itself.
      Then a bulb went off over my head. They intend to outsource the burning and pipe in the hydrogen, then its not UK emissions, simple really. Now who, where would be stupid enough to do that? Well I suppose if you think ‘England and Wales’ for emissions and Scotland is independant and desperately needs cash…..

  2. Joe Public permalink
    July 30, 2020 12:23 pm

    The FES document is disingenuous:

    “Total hydrogen storage requirements in all three net zero scenarios reach at least 15 TWh. The lower energy density of hydrogen compared to methane means that despite this requirement being similar to energy stored in gas storage today it may require larger storage volumes.”

    [My bold]

    The Gross Calorific Value of hydrogen is just 11.88 MJ/m3 (3.3kWh/m3) vs 37.5 MJ/m3 to 43.0 MJ/m3 (approx 11.1kWh/m3) for Nat Gas, so less than 30% that of Nat Gas per unit volume.

    Britain has 18.656 TWh of natural gas storage.

    Click to access 181207_storage_update_website.pdf

    This means Britain would need 2.68x the current volume of storage at the same storage pressure, if it is to store H2 rather than Nat Gas.

    The predominant factor affecting the heat-quantity stored is the pressure at which the gas is stored. However, the greater the pressure, the greater the leakage propensity. A physical attribute of hydrogen is that it is the ‘leakiest’ element. Consequently, for the massive interseasonal storage facilities it’s impractical to consider storing H2 at a greater pressure than Nat Gas.

    It is of course possible to store H2 at pressures of 700bar and beyond, or cryogenically. This though then incurs huge energy costs/losses. Compression inefficiency to 700bar can be as high as 40% – 49%. Cryogenic inefficiency can be as high as 26% – 33%.

    • Steve permalink
      July 30, 2020 2:01 pm

      I am not an engineer but my rough calculation is with annual UK gas consumption at 2.8 ex joules or 775 TWh, that’s 15TWh/ week, 80% is for homes – 12TWh. Mid winter in a freeze with no wind say 3x – 36 TWh/week. SEWTHA suggests 2 weeks without wind over W. Europe, so no surplus. Burning hydrogen in the home would need 72TWh stored. Burning it for electricity wouldn’t help as even less efficient. They reckon 15TWh storage. The volume needs to triple for equivalent energy and for two weeks 4.8 times 3 or 14.4 times the volume.
      Is this right?

      • Steve permalink
        July 31, 2020 3:37 pm

        On second thoughts, if half of the reforming supply could be kept going and there were enough LNG tankers to supply, then the missing wind, solar, interconnector and nuclear would require half the storage volume at only 7.2 times their estimate.
        Whether there would be enough electricity to power the hydrogen boilers and batteries is another question.

  3. Alan Fields permalink
    July 30, 2020 12:28 pm


  4. It doesn't add up... permalink
    July 30, 2020 12:58 pm

    And then there was magic. Producing all that hydrogen by SMR at a wonderfully high efficiency, and not a Joule wasted on CCS. Magic, I tell you.

  5. Vernon E permalink
    July 30, 2020 1:13 pm

    I don’t think that today’s natural gas is “stored” – the pack in the grid suffices. Of course hydrogen needs three times the volume of storage for the same heat availability, maybe a return to some of the old “dry seal” (Wiggins) gasometers? LNG storage will, under all circumstances, provide for peak demand storage, unchanged.

    As for why to do it asked above its because CCS can work with steam reforming.

    In theory, anything can be done and thank goodness the electrolytic route has been dismissed.

    But its all madness anyway. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

    • Joe Public permalink
      July 30, 2020 1:25 pm

      Hi Vernon

      “I don’t think that today’s natural gas is “stored” ….”

      My comment above confirms “Britain has 18.656 TWh of natural gas storage” with source.

      Click on the Actual Storage Stock (GWh) ‘Graph’ button at the link below, and you’ll see that as of yesterday we have ~13TWh of gas in dedicated storage

      Linepack gives an extra 1 – 2 day’s of additional storage.

      At this link – scroll down and see today’s linepack is 350 million cubic meters. 1mcm is approx 11GWh.

      For context, Britain has approx 27GWh of pumped hydro storage, and maybe 6GWh of grid-level battery storage.

      • Joe Public permalink
        July 30, 2020 1:26 pm

        ” … today’s linepack is 350 million cubic metres“. Freudian slip.

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        July 30, 2020 2:15 pm

        There is also storage at LNG terminals in the form of LNG tankage, which can also be viewed via the Prevailing View. Both are fairly full at the moment, taking advantage of cheap gas to stock up.

  6. James Marusek permalink
    July 30, 2020 1:44 pm

    This is a very grand project and like many idealistic projects it suffers from a host of bad assumptions that will prevent its implementation. Therefore I suggest that Great Britain demand a successful small scale testbed to verify the feasibility of this project before any major funds are committed.

    Hydrogen is highly explosive and you want to put this in peoples homes and businesses. Safety is a major consideration.

    • Gamecock permalink
      August 4, 2020 10:26 pm

      To date, there is no usable odorant for hydrogen. Putting it in people’s homes without an odorant is insane. Imagine nat gas without one.

  7. Peter permalink
    July 30, 2020 1:49 pm

    When we add up the various costs involved in fighting climate change, such as digging up all the roads to re-wire the country, replacing all combustion engine vehicles, replacing all gas heating boilers, changing our electricity generation, chasing moonbeams like carbon capture and grid scale storage batteries, the total must be at fantasy levels.

    It would be lot cheaper to get a decent and honest team of scientists to audit the science of climate change. Most of the problem would disappear.

  8. A C Osborn permalink
    July 30, 2020 1:56 pm

    It literally has nothing going for it at all.
    Unless you are pushing UN Agendas that is.

  9. It doesn't add up... permalink
    July 30, 2020 3:04 pm

    The assumptions about SMR hydrogen are extremely stylised. I checked their detailed workbook, so the stocks in this chart really are the cumulated differences between production and consumption (with no allowance for round trip losses!). The demand curve appears to be a cosine curve with upward perturbations. The only thing you can say is that it implies that storage being almost full will dictate cutting off production, and storage being almost empty would imply full production regardless of the level of electricity supply available.

    Demand varies between 720 GWh/day and 3050 GWh/day – but

    The implied average utilisation of the plant is 70%: they avoid any direct data on electrolysis. This is likely a good indicator of the general standard of modelling adopted.

    • Steve permalink
      July 30, 2020 9:48 pm

      In other words, it’s a complete **** up. Could someone please tell me whether my amateurish approximation about storage for a two week lull in midwinter are completely wrong or not.
      If this site can show that a funded green quango is procuring BS, how much taxpayer’s money is being wasted?

  10. Coeur de Lion permalink
    July 30, 2020 6:17 pm

    Oh dear, again, UK produces just over one per cent of global CO2 and CO2 has little efffct on the weather.

    • Gamecock permalink
      August 4, 2020 10:28 pm

      Stop it! I’ve told you before, it is <0.04%.

  11. July 30, 2020 7:23 pm

    If they persist with these garbage energy non-policies for long enough, future generations are going to be severely disappointed with the results – or lack of same.

  12. Mike Jackson permalink
    July 30, 2020 7:38 pm

    Off topic, Paul, but you won’t want to miss this one!

  13. July 30, 2020 11:06 pm

    I roughly calculate that generating 563 TWh per year by burning H2 would generate H20 equivalent to 70% of the average UK rainfall. Reminds me of your expression “bringing coals to Newcastle.”

    (Got an error msg saying it couldn’t be posted, so I hope this doesn’t get repeated)

  14. Vernon E permalink
    July 31, 2020 2:54 pm

    Some mix ups in the comments about gas storage. Our natural gas storage is as LNG and I repeat that I don’t think we store gas as gas. If hydrogen replaced gas it would (could) not be liquefied for storage. Couple of other points: firstly, the grid can’t operate with a mixture of gases so whole sections of the country would have to be disconnected, purged and rec-connected – overnight! Ain’t going to happen.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: