NW in 2019 | Energy transformation

It’s not often that the property sector really talks about energy, writes Jane Gaston of Protos, part of Peel Environmental. I’m sure as developers, conversations around grid connections and infrastructure will feature, but how often does the industry really think about where the energy comes from and how secure it is?

Energy is essential to delivering economic growth and prosperity. If you can’t switch the lights on or get to where you need to be then how can we expect the regional economy to grow? A recent report by MetroDynamics ‘Investing in the Future’ argues that prioritising spending on regional infrastructure is vital to grow and rebalance the economy.

Energy costs contribute to competitive manufacturing. When investors from around the world are looking where to bring their next logistics hub, commercial premises, industrial warehouses or specialised manufacturing facilities, they need not only the sites with access and infrastructure but an energy supply to make all three work, so their products can compete in global markets.

We have the opportunity to lead the charge when it comes to energy. Peel Environmental is one of the founding members of the North West Hydrogen Alliance which has come together to highlight how the North West could make hydrogen energy a reality in the UK. The Alliance members – Atkins, BOC, Cadent, Costain, Shell and the University of Chester alongside Peel Environmental – are collaborating to support the development of hydrogen-focused decarbonised energy.

We’re in a pretty unique position in the North West with the industry, infrastructure and innovation to lead the UK’s hydrogen energy revolution, bringing with it huge benefits to the region in new jobs, skills and investment.

Why bother? Well, the 2008 Climate Change Act has set the UK a legal obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including CO2, by 80% by 2050. To do this we need to find ways of decarbonising our energy systems. Hydrogen could provide clean energy for our homes, businesses and transport networks. It offers a way to deliver low carbon energy because when consumed it doesn’t produce CO2, just water and energy. Hydrogen is a flexible and secure energy vector which is already being used in vehicle fleets and industry.

Hydrogen production and use has been happening in the region for many years, such as BOC’s hydrogen plant in St Helens. PowerHouse Energy is developing technologies to turn waste plastic into hydrogen. The Centurion project at Runcorn is assessing production of hydrogen from electrolysis whilst Cadent’s large-scale HyNet project is aimed at producing hydrogen to help decarbonise industrial, domestic and transport markets.

In November, more than £14m in funding was awarded to Cadent to run field trials on public gas networks in the North West, blending hydrogen with natural gas to heat around 750 homes in year-long trials. Starting in 2019, the four-year programme will monitor the performance and safety of using hydrogen to heat homes and build support for a wider roll out. Across the UK, using hydrogen like this could save the same amount of carbon as taking 2.5 million cars off the road.

The development of a hydrogen economy in 2019 will require the property sector to provide the land and facilities to support the various initiatives and associated supply chain. We’re looking at how Protos, our strategic energy hub in the industrial heartland of Cheshire, could cluster businesses together that support the hydrogen revolution. 2019 is the year that hydrogen will be seen as critically important in the UK’s strategy to decarbonise energy, and offers the North West a huge opportunity to lead the way.

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