A PUBLIC exhibition for a project to convert around 2,000 Whitby homes to use hydrogen gas was held at Ellesmere Port Civic Hall.

The pilot scheme from Cadent, British Gas and Cheshire West and Chester Council is attempting to demonstrate how homes would switch to low-carbon producing hydrogen for processes like heating, boiling water and cooking food. However, residents are divided over the project, with many raising concerns around safety, the long term economic cost and what will happen after the two year trial period is up.

Andy Ritchieson, a Whitby resident, said that he had attended the event in an attempt to get further information and allay some concerns.

"Everyone knows that we’re going to go away from using natural gas, I think [Cadent’s] opinion is that it has to be done this way if they want a market share.

"I was hoping to get information from independent experts but I don’t think I’ve quite got that. I think its very much people who oppose it and people who are trying to sell it.

"I’m very scared for my own kids, I’ve got two special needs children and our home has always been a very safe environment for them and I don’t like the idea of having hydrogen at the moment.

"I would be leaning toward a heat pump as I feel safer with that and I’m concerned with the knock on effect on house prices and everything else that goes with it. A lot of people seem share similar concerns to myself.

"It seems to be driven by a government who are trying to force it through because they think it’s the way they have to go and companies that are trying to do the same."

Cadent have said that whilst they understand concerns from residents, the project is not attempting to test whether the gas is a safe energy source for homes, something they say they are already confident of.

Marc Clarke, Head of Hydrogen Consumer at Cadent, said: "This programme is not in any way about testing the safety of hydrogen. This is a demonstration of what a conversion programme might look like.

"What this programme demonstrates is that real life situation that we will all have to have at some stage, as natural gas will stop being supplied to our homes. Then we have to make a decision around whether we would take an electric alternative, or if there's a low carbon gas available, would we take that?

"The benefit of hydrogen is that you can use the existing gas pipes, there isn't heavy modifications needed. We don't need to dig roads up. We would use that same infrastructure."

Kate Grannell, an affected resident and member of a residents' group who oppose the development, says that independent body, the Hydrogen science coalition (Hse), have warned that this approach is dangerous.

"We've repeatedly gone to [Hse] to say that [Cadent] have told us the appliances and boilers they're using are safe and they say it's not about that, they are reusing your pipe infrastructure. The pipes themselves, that's fine, but it's the joints. With the molecular structure of hydrogen, it will find an escape route, its the smallest molecule and it will find a gap that natural gas was not able to get through.

"If that leaks and it pools, it has a wider flammable range than methane gas and if it ignites, you're a gonner."

Ms Gannell also points to questions around the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions when burning hydrogen via cooker hobs, which she says have not been answered.

Joe Howe, Professor of Energy at the University of Chester, said: "Three or four years ago, I might have said there were some risks associated with [fuelling a home with hydrogen]. Now, I'm pretty convinced given all of the very robust testing and certifications that have been put in place that those risks have been managed.

"Inevitably, with any fuel source going into our houses, be it electrical, with electrons going into our houses, if you touch a raw wire perhaps there's some risks associated with that. Likewise, with molecules coming into our houses, like methane, like hydrogen, of course there are some risks associated with that, but those have reached a legislative standard and a statutory standard in relation to this particular exercise and I am completely convinced that that is appropriate for the development of a hydrogen village within Whitby."

Another key point of debate centres around the fact that if Whitby is selected, all of the homes within the trial area will be powered using hydrogen gas for the duration of the trial, the options will be either to go ahead with the conversion to hydrogen appliances or to opt out via a change to electric. Something which Ms Grannell says has not been focused on enough.

"[Cadent] have still not told people, widely, that if this goes ahead, regardless of whether you choose hydrogen or an alternative, the bottom line is what you won't have is natural gas.

"We do a lot of campaigning, leaflet dropping, speaking to residents and there's a huge population who are not on social media, because they're elderly, who have no idea that they're being cut off from gas and when we're talking to them they're absolutely in shock.

"From a huge project, that is a massive communication failure."

Cadent have stated that those who opt into the scheme will be given the choice to revert to natural gas or stay on hydrogen only at the end of the programme. The gas distribution company say that more information on this will be provided before residents are asked to make a 'firm decision' about appliances.

Residents are also concerned about the potential future price of hydrogen, with the trial set to subsidise the cost of converting each home to the energy source and ensure that hydrogen remains at a comparative price to natural gas for the duration of the pilot scheme, but with no guarantees as to what will happen after.

Marc Clarke said: "There's many models out there to say what a future price of any sort of electricity or gas commodity might look like. If you'd asked me three years ago what the price of natural gas might have looked like it would have been a very different answer then to what we are experiencing today.

"Understanding what makes up a gas bill is the first place to look for that. There's a report by Bloomberg, who are independent, that shows that green hydrogen will fall to a similar price [to natural gas] and less than electricity by around 2030.

"There's then elements like tariff subsidies, general operating costs and others. If you look at what you are actually paying for that fuel, that's really where you can see that it can be as low as natural gas. That doesn't mean to say that we will all pay the same as what natural gas is today, because that's the extra bit of the bill that shippers and suppliers will put on, but that would be the same with electricity."

Kate Grannell said: "The cost of hydrogen will not come down, there's not one forecast that says that hydrogen will come down to the existing price of methane gas because put very simply, it requires energy to create it and energy to clean up after that process. It's a two part process [to create the hydrogen] with more people involved and that results in higher costs.

"It will never get to large-scale green hydrogen production because that comes at a significant price. You need methane gas and fossil fuels to produce the hydrogen, so that's the gas that were being told we can't have but it's being used to produce hydrogen and then it has to be cleaned [through processes like carbon capture which offsets the emissions created by producing hydrogen] which makes the price go up."

Cadent say that the trial will predominantly use 'green' hydrogen, which is produced through wind power from sites like Frodsham Wind Farm, with no 'blue' hydrogen (produced through the burning of fossil fuels and then utilising carbon capture and storage) being used at this stage.

Those opposed to the scheme say that the carbon capture required to ensure that methods like blue hydrogen remain low-carbon (which Cadent say would see up to 97 percent of the generated carbon captured) is one that has not currently been achieved on any project of this scale.

Cadent say that they would like to see a move away from colour categorisation and preference, with more of a focus on what the government have said constitutes low-carbon, which is dictated by a set figure (2.4kg of CO2e per kilogram of H2).