A plan to blend East Coast-generated hydrogen into natural gas supplies before switching to delivering 100 percent hydrogen by 2050 will create a new energy economy here, the fuel company behind the plan says.
A report by Firstgas Group, which operates the natural gas pipe networks in the North Island and owns LPG supply and distribution business Rockgas, has detailed the East Coast’s role in a nationwide change over the next 30 years towards zero carbon gases.
Based on the report, Firstgas Group says it can phase in natural gas blends of up to 20 percent hydrogen from 2030 and a full switch to hydrogen-only could be completed nationwide by 2050.
The report identified Gisborne as a base for hydrogen generation in the East Coast region.
The site was best suited because of proximity to the gas and electricity networks and water supplies.
That would allow newly-built electrolyser plants which would use electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Hydrogen Project leader Angela Ogier said the change to hydrogen could create dozens of jobs in a potentially new regional energy industry — making hydrogen to power factories, homes and transport, as well as storing energy for periods of high demand.
The report found that gas infrastructure on the East Coast is made of modern materials and equipment that can be repurposed to supply green hydrogen — a zero carbon alternative to natural gas.
The hydrogen could be made on the East Coast, mixed into natural gas and distributed by pipeline to commercial customers such as those in agriculture, horticulture, and hospitality, and to residential customers.
“Businesses and households will not need to change their gas appliances just yet to accommodate the blending of hydrogen into natural gas,” Ms Ogier said.
“They will have 20 years or more to switch to hydrogen-friendly appliances when old equipment reaches the end of its life. Changing to zero or low-emission gases would mean more energy options for local consumers and a totally new industry in the local economy.
“The hydrogen would be made by new businesses, hiring local workers and suppliers. It would be blended into the local network without customers needing to change equipment just yet.
“The plan is to start gradually generating enough East Coast hydrogen to blend into natural gas, and producing enough by 2050 to displace natural gas entirely.
“At that point, we envisage hydrogen would also be fuelling totally new uses such as powering trains, buses and trucks.”
Ms Ogier said a local energy industry would increase the ability of the region to handle fluctuations in demand and supply, and outages across all types of energy.
The next stages include collaboration with companies interested in building hydrogen generators, identifying blending systems, pricing studies and fine-tuning with large gas customers.
A cleaner alternative to natural gas, hydrogen is produced through electrolysis — where water is split into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity. As long as this electricity is renewable (generated by things like wind and solar), the process creates no new carbon emissions.
Ms Ogier said the company was excited about its study results, which provided “a concept level solution for conversion of our network to hydrogen”.
“We have identified that Gisborne would provide a good location for production and this is subject to more detailed investigation.
“As the hydrogen economy evolves over the next 15 to 20 years, we envisage that hydrogen production plans will develop for the East Coast. At that time, those developing hydrogen production would engage councils, other local bodies and iwi.
“We envisage dozens of jobs could be created during the construction phase and some permanent jobs established when the plant is up and running.”