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“Think big, start small”- Denise Massey, Energy Innovation Centre

Following directly on from the keynote speech from Northern Powerhouse Minister Andrew Percy MP, the Northern Gas Networks panel discussion- “powering the Powerhouse” brought together senior figures from across the energy sector to discuss the future of energy policy in the North.

The session was opened by George Beveridge from the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) who set out the challenges and opportunities facing the industry. The rapid decline of coal – with most scheduled to come off grid by 2020 – was highlighted as the most impending threat as no one replacement had come to the fore-front as a natural replacement.

Powering the powerhouse

He spoke of the physical and intellectual infrastructure of the North as a key asset, however and highlighted the fact that nearly 50% of all of the UK’s renewable energy is generate in the North.

He went on to look at projects , such as Northern Gas Network’s H21 City Gate project in Leeds as the “big ideas” which can lead the country to meet its de-carbonisation targets. He also referenced the potential of shale and the unique geology of the North allowing for gas storage in vast salt caverns.

John Humphrys of BBC Radio 4, who was moderating the session, challenged the panel on “whether we will be able to keep the lights on?”

Denise Massey, Managing Director of the Energy Innovation Centre (EIC), tackled this first, focussing her answers on the need for the sector to come together to find a solution to this common problem: “we have the knowledge and the ambition – we need an energy mix which is integrated.”

Denise Massey

Andy Manning, Director of Network Regulation, Forecasting and Settlements at British Gas followed to say that business needs to see energy as an opportunity not a cost, and come together to deliver affordable, long term solutions.

Picking up this baton, Andy Koss of Drax, who operate their power station on 50% wood pellets as opposed to coal, challenged the panel, and those across industry in the North, to “de-carbonise using the skills and resources we already have.” Echoing this, Denise Massey said that the whole of the Northern energy economy needs to “think big, then start small” in designing and delivering a multi vector solution to the de-carbonisation problem.

Andy Kloss, Drax

Francis Egan of Caudrilla spoke of the “multi-decade” potential of the Bowland shale and, while still at an early stage, how it could play a huge part in the low carbon, future energy mix required.

The discussion turned to devolution and to ask whether a specific Northern Energy Strategy was required – an idea to be “closely looked at” according to George Beveridge from Cumbira LEP.  Drax were similarly supportive, but said that it needs to be attached to a regional legislative body to be successful – citing the Scottish Government as an example of a body pursuing regional energy goals.

Away from a specific strategy, the key to a successful energy future in the North, Andy Koss said, was the “go back to basics, keep our good people and businesses in the region and invest in the great opportunities we already have.”

This was a feeling felt across the panel – with Caudrilla saying it would be “madness” not to use indigenous gas if it is safe and available, and Drax highlighting the conversion to wood pellets from Coal as an example of creative thinking.

From a financial perspective, Mike Dunn from Iona Capital said that the markets were looking for opportunities in low carbon energy innovation and challenged all businesses present to put forward their business cases for funding to get the process started.

Northern Powerhouse Conference

H21 – A hydrogen led future

The panel was concluded by NGN’s Special Advisor, Dan Sadler looking at the potential for hydrogen conversion of the heat network, as we are examining as part of our H21 City Gate Project.

He left the panel and audience in no doubt as to the size of the de-carbonisation challenge – “it is like telling me I need to completely demolish and re-build my house by next week.”

NGN’s H21 project is looking at the feasibility of converting the gas network to hydrogen, and was hailed throughout the session as the sort of “big thinking” required if the UK is to meet its carbon obligations. Dan presented the case to the panel and the auditorium: “The network is the right size to convert to hydrogen- with technology today we could do it.”

Dan Sadler

Echoing the earlier calls from Denise Massey and Andy Koss, Dan called on policy makers and industry to work together, saying that a decision must be taken and enacted by 2020 if we have any chance of hitting the 2050 targets.

The session closed with an uplifting call to arms, as Dan presenting the panel with the amazing opportunity of the North being “the first true hydrogen economy in the world.”

For more information about H21, the report and executive summary can be downloaded here: http://www.northerngasnetworks.co.uk/archives/document/h21-leeds-city-gate

A short film about the H21 project is available to watch here: http://www.northerngasnetworks.co.uk/archives/9689