'Use hydrogen to store renewable energy'

Excess renewable energy should be used to produce hydrogen fuel, engineers have said.

The Institute of Mechanical Engineers (iMechE) said the UK should be investing in ways to integrate the use of hydrogen into the gas grid as a way to store green energy produced by wind, solar and nuclear.

Hydrogen, which can be separated from water using electricity, can be stored and be burnt like natural gas, making it a potential alternative to battery storage.

The gas, which gives off no emissions when burnt, could be mixed with natural gas and used for heating and energy generation when renewable output is low, or it could be used to run gas vehicles.

In a report, iMechE also said the technology could be used as an alternative to lithium ion batteries, which are still expensive and heavily reliant on rare minerals including cobalt.

The UK now produces a lot of energy from renewables – between June and September last year National Grid (NG) said nearly 52% of electricity generation was met by low-carbon sources. But the irregularity of supply is still a major hurdle to wider adoption.

In its latest summer output report, NG warned too much energy production from renewables including solar during times of low demand could actually create “operability challenges” for the grid, that may see a need for output to be reduced elsewhere.

iMechE said using excess energy to produce hydrogen would be a way to balance supply and demand around renewables.

Jenifer Baxter, head of engineering at iMechE and lead author of the report, said: “Government and industry need to step up efforts to provide funding programmes and demonstration sites to encourage the greater use of hydrogen as energy storage.

“The UK has a strong track record of being at the cutting edge of new energy developments, and this could present the country with a chance to be a world leader in power-to-gas and hydrogen technology.”

She added that hydrogen technology “could and should” help the UK develop a more circular economy.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • Government should facilitate a forum for the gas, nuclear and renewable energy sectors to collaborate and invest in the technology.
  • The UK should aim to be using 20% hydrogen in its gas distribution network by 2023.
  • Government should commission a study comparing the sustainability of lithium ion, gas and hydrogen vehicles.

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