The importance of hydrogen to the UK’s future energy system and industry is clearly reflected in the UK Hydrogen Strategy and follow-on work – so the logical next step is to create guidelines that are fit for purpose.
But where do we stand currently with hydrogen regulations?
The short answer is that in some cases, standards are missing completely and in others they have been adapted from other sectors and are not necessarily optimised for hydrogen.
The maritime sector is an example where there are no precedents for hydrogen. Three years ago, our member ULEMCo, a global pioneer of technology, devised a project to put hydrogen on a ferry, but it wasn’t approved to go ahead under current regulations.
Meanwhile, Bosch, one of our newer members, has experience of requirements for flue systems that are based on combustion and not fuel cells and are, therefore, not fit for purpose.
Most hydrogen projects must navigate an existing legislative landscape that applies to gasses more generally.
In stationary applications, this is in part because hydrogen is captured under the definition of “gas” in the Gas Act 1986 and is therefore regulated as part of the gas network. Under the Gas Safety (Management) Regulations 1996, the concentration of hydrogen that can be injected onto the UK gas network is 0.1%. Tests are currently underway to increase the hydrogen blend to up to 20% and investigations are exploring 100% hydrogen in the gas grid. If successful, the regulations will need to be amended to allow for higher blends and levels.
In other sectors we have further problems relating to legislation. For example, the European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road currently regulates the transport of hydrogen but classifies it as a dangerous good. This means hydrogen transport is excluded through ten tunnels in the UK.
Large hydrogen infrastructure projects meanwhile are subject to consent under the existing Planning Act 2008, or Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Issues arise in relation to storage of hydrogen on site where an Environmental Impact Assessment is needed. Such an assessment may well be carried out by an assessor who does not understand hydrogen or the general principles of how to manage the risks it poses. In such cases, there is likely to be a tendency towards being overly cautious.
This is despite the fact that, as an industrial gas, hydrogen has an excellent safety record and has attributes which, if accommodated into plans for its use, provide advantages over other gases – for example, if vented it rises so there is no pooling.
Finally, we have health and safety. Hydrogen, like other gasses is heavily regulated from a health and safety perspective. The storage of hydrogen for example, is regulated by The Planning (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2015 and the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 2015, depending on the quantities involved.
Consent is required to store two or more tonnes of hydrogen, and a further consent is required where storing five or more tonnes.
It feels like those of us pushing the hydrogen agenda are forever negotiating red tape wrapped around regulations which were set up for purposes unrelated to hydrogen – and certainly not for how we might use hydrogen in future.
And this brings us back to the start – and a call for a regulatory body and a set of standards for the production, use, storage, transportation, and application of hydrogen.
In our view, we need a point of responsibility, and we would like to propose a new body within Government – such as the Office of Hydrogen Codes, Regulations and Standards – which leads on ensuring that the right legislation is in place in a timely manner for all applications and contexts. This will help to ensure that our ambitions are not hampered by red tape and we can deliver the scale and speed that we need.