Hydrogen Infrastructure Uncertainty Management for Heat Decarbonisation

Lead Research Organisation: University College London


The goal of the HUMAN project is to provide the first systematic analysis on the cost of uncertainties related to the hydrogen-led decarbonisation of heat. Sustainable decarbonisation pathways require uncertainty-resilient policies. These policies can be informed by acknowledging proactively the uncertainties inflicted by technology performance, volatility in heat demand and socio-economic fluctuations. With the power sector becoming increasingly reliant on intermittent renewable sources and the Government's commitment to "Net-Zero" by 2050, the role of hydrogen towards heat decarbonisation and the related uncertainties need to be urgently explored. The project considers strategic and operational decisions related to the deployment of a hydrogen-led system and its interaction with the power grid across multiple spatial and temporal scales. Employing the tools developed within the project the optimal mix of electrification and hydrogen-based decarbonisation of heat will be explored at a UK-wide level. Using novel uncertainty modelling methods, the impact of uncertainties related to the heat sector and the hydrogen production technologies will be analysed to derive uncertainty-informed transition pathways. Finally, HUMAN proposes to disseminate an open-source platform with user-friendly interface to enhance interpretability among energy policy practitioners and enable the investigation of alternative uncertainty-informed scenarios for heat decarbonisation.

Planned Impact

Through the proposed transformative research plan, HUMAN will achieve impact on the Grand Challenge of Clean Growth, EPSRC's prosperity outcomes as well as in the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund areas, of energy and manufacturing. Major strands include:
Economic Impact: In contrast to the UK's success story in decarbonising the power sector, heat has proven to be among the most difficult to decarbonise sectors. The latest report by the National Infrastructure Commission estimates that the cost of decarbonising heat through to 2050 will be between £120-£300bn through to 2050 driven by the uncertainties involved. HUMAN proposes a rigorous workplan to mitigate the multitude of uncertainties related to the H2-led decarbonisation of heat and thus reduce the aforementioned cost range. Deciphering the uncertainties related the role of hydrogen in decarbonising heat will boost confidence in the gas market and thus leverage investment decisions increasing UK's competitiveness and create new employment opportunities. Major economic insights for the gas and electricity sectors will be derived which can lead to development of new business models for services in providing heat and system balancing. We will use the channels of our Energy Policy Forum of EPRG at Cambridge and the CPSE at UCL to increase the uptake of the project's outcomes by major industrial, policy and government actors within the UK and globally.
Social Impact: Decarbonising the heat sector in the UK, which is currently the biggest single emitter, will have great benefits in the improvement of air-quality and living standards. However, in order to secure affordability and security of supply in a low-carbon future, the investments and policies must be resilient to the uncertainties. HUMAN aims to address these considerations by analysing and mitigating the uncertainties in the decarbonisation of heat to secure low-cost provision of heat to the society. The project also involves the examination of fuel poverty implications and how the deployment of hydrogen can aid their alleviation. Within the project we will work closely with our partners from the CCC and the National Grid to shape energy policy and business solutions.
Developing Future Talent: The project's three PDRAs and two RAs will engage in world-leading research activities and training opportunities from the University of Cambridge and UCL. They will gain invaluable experience in interdisciplinary cutting-edge research for energy systems modelling and policy under uncertainty. Finally, through their strong interaction with the project's partners they will be ready to take leading positions in industry, academia, governmental and financial organisations.
Impact on Knowledge: The project has the potential to lead to breakthrough in the state-of-the-art for mitigating uncertainty in process and energy systems modelling and policy communities. We aim to be the first research team to inform government and industry stakeholders for resilient and "uncertainty-informed" policies and business opportunities. Further to these, through the open-source software we will deploy as part of the project, our goal is to increase transparency and improve interpretability among the energy systems and energy policy communities.
Widening Impact: A H2-led decarbonisation of heat will not only incur significant changes in the gas sector but will also directly affect millions of homeowners in the UK. To this end, as part of the project we will seek to communicate our results to general audiences through the project's website and social media. In order to widen the impact of the project to non-specialists, we will also publish infographics and participate in outreach events as ways of public engagement and cultural enrichment. Public engagement outlets include among others University of Cambridge "Festival of Ideas", UCL's "It's All Academic Festival", school visits and other leading energy and engineering fairs.


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