Faced with the challenge of decarbonising the gas network to meet the ambitious UK and Scottish Government emissions targets, SGN sought the expertise of academics from the University of Edinburgh to support the transition from natural gas to low-carbon hydrogen.
British gas distribution company SGN recognises the pace and scale at which the energy sector must decarbonise to meet the UK and Scottish Government emissions targets, and so the company has invested significantly in research exploring options to adapt the gas infrastructure to carry hydrogen.
Through its existing research, SGN has supported projects such as H100 Fife, a world-first hydrogen network that in 2023 will heat ~300 homes on the Fife coast using hydrogen produced by a dedicated electrolysis plant, powered by an offshore wind turbine. SGN has made bold strides, but a successful transition to low-carbon energy means finding suitable large-scale storage that can accommodate hydrogen safely, and which allows for seasonal fluctuations between wind farm supply and consumer demand.
The right expertise
Understanding that geological storage could provide the necessary conditions and scale to store vast volumes of hydrogen, SGN approached researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences to generate storage data that will allow the company to confidently map out its transition to hydrogen. SGN had already established a strong working relationship with the School of Geosciences through Professor Stuart Haszeldine, and this project represented an ideal opportunity to deepen and diversify that partnership.
Dr Katriona Edlmann, Chancellor's Fellow in Energy, has considerable expertise in geological hydrogen storage, and together with post-doctoral researcher Dr Julien Mouli-Castillo she is creating a meticulous yet user-friendly open access Geographic Information System (GIS) database for SGN and other energy companies to use.
The database combines existing geological datasets with Dr Edlmann and Dr Mouli-Castillo’s original, state-of-the-art research into the scale and viability of depleted oil and gas fields, saline aquifers and salt caverns that could store hydrogen in the UK and its surrounding waters. The research team are overlaying this with infrastructure data: wind farm locations, high voltage power lines, and SGN’s operational centres, as well as anticipatory data such as planned wind farm locations and gas pipelines that could be repurposed for hydrogen transportation.
A clear way forward
While this volume of information could easily prove daunting and unwieldy for the non-academic user, Dr Edlmann and Dr Mouli-Castillo are passionate about designing a user-friendly database to ensure that their research has real-world impact. Layering and cross-referencing the various strands of data allows users across industry, as well as policymakers, academics, regulators and the general public, to see at a glance where the most convenient storage sites are, how they would interact with infrastructure, and puts the wider industry in a knowledgeable position to map out the next stages of investment and evolution.
In creating a database that allows the energy sector to foresight the implementation of safe and cost-effective geological hydrogen storage, the research team will enable SGN and other stakeholders to decarbonise faster, maintain consumer trust, and ensure a more sustainable future for all.
The hydrogen economy is forecast to play a critical role in our future net zero energy system. A fundamental requirement for transition to hydrogen will be to ensure network resilience and security of supply for our customers. We are delighted to be in partnership with Edinburgh University to develop a hydrogen storage database identifying long term and large-scale hydrogen storage sites that can support our future decarbonised networks.
Courtney West, SGN