National Grid ESO - waterfall
How do we generate electricity using hydrogen?
Hydrogen can be produced from a variety of resources, such as natural gas, nuclear power, biogas and renewable power like solar and wind. The challenge is harnessing hydrogen as a gas on a large scale to fuel our homes and businesses.

For some time now, we have used natural gas for these purposes - power stations have used gas to generate electricity. In fact, most of our homes, and around 40% of the UK’s total electricity generation, rely on gas.  

Natural gas works in that it’s cost efficient, is a readily available resource, and a cleaner alternative to coal. But not as clean as some alternatives – when it’s burnt, it creates the waste product carbon dioxide which contributes to climate change.

When we burn hydrogen however, the only by product is water vapour, making it a potentially cleaner alternative to support our ambition of running a zero carbon grid by 2025, and Great Britain’s longer-term net zero 2050 goals.

Storage and transportation

Hydrogen is interesting because it has the potential to be stored for long periods. Currently battery storage is only a short-term option. There’s also the benefit of being able to transport it along existing infrastructure, though this is also not without its challenges.

“Hydrogen has the potential to act as a storage medium for times when you have excess generation from renewables, such as wind,” said Robert Gibson, Strategy Manager.  “It would be produced via electrolysis, stored - potentially in large volumes for extended periods of time - and then when there is a requirement for additional electricity, the hydrogen could be used in a hydrogen-powered power station.”

Electrolysis can also offer flexibility to the network when it becomes congested during peak periods of generation by renewables.

“Electricity can be converted to hydrogen if there’s network congestion and then either transported to be used elsewhere in the country or stored until needed at a later date,” explains Robert. “You could even leverage existing natural gas infrastructure and pipe it straight to homes and businesses.

“There are potential cost efficiencies in converting hydrogen directly at electricity generation points. Studies across Europe are looking at doing this for offshore wind. Floating wind turbines way out at sea need cabling, and it’s expensive to bring the electricity on shore. It’s potentially cheaper to bring the energy onshore as hydrogen. It could then be piped across the country to heat people’s homes or used elsewhere in the energy system.”

Hydrogen as a fuel in action

For transport, there are already cars that run on hydrogen fuel cells. Japan has almost 100 public hydrogen refuelling stations, allowing you to fill up your car just as you would with petrol or diesel. Other countries including Germany and the US also have hydrogen stations.

“I’d say hydrogen fuel is promising for heavy good vehicles,” said Robert. “It’s more energy dense and can be offer quicker refuelling than electric. But they’re also building electric HGVs so there’ll be competition. In all our future energy scenarios, we look at the whole range.”

The potential for hydrogen supply is explained fully in our Future Energy Scenarios (FES) Publication.