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Paul Yates

Paul Yates

UK & Europe

Paul is a client director for the Energy Market, with a primary focus on renewables, generation, waste to energy and networks. He is passionate about finding new ways to reduce carbon and increase resilience in energy supply.He is a key interface with our Energy business and engages with clients and colleagues to bring ideas to life. He brings the full range of Atkins’ capability to any client project, generating new ways of moving them forward, identifying and managing out risk and innovating in  project development, from initial concept through to design and delivery. He is a Chartered Environmentalist and a member of the Institutes of Environmental Management and Acoustics.

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Hydrogen can transform domestic heating and vehicle transport, large scale energy generation and energy intensive industry. It is flexible and clean at the point of end use, helping to address local air quality issues, and can be stored under pressure at high volumes, providing resilience. It is already in use in fuel cells powering vehicles such as buses and fork lift trucks. The Energy Research Partnership (ERP) considers that it has the potential to power up to 10% of road vehicles and to replace natural gas in the grid transmission system, in the same way that towns gas was replaced with natural gas in the 1970s.

Of course, the use of hydrogen doesn’t come without its challenges. Manufacture through electrolysis is only low carbon if the electricity used is low carbon and in reality, the quantity of electricity required will be prohibitive. Using hydrogen from steam methane reformation (SMR) would require about a third more natural gas to produce it than using the natural gas itself directly. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) would also be required to avoid a negative impact in terms of climate change.

So, for the hydrogen economy to be a viable route for decarbonisation, we need SMR, CCS and use of the existing gas network, replacing natural gas with hydrogen. Current thinking is that we need 100% hydrogen replacement of natural gas, as blending at lower proportions simply does not work out as carbon beneficial due to the CO2 generated in manufacture. However, this leaves us with a problem: domestic appliances are not able to run on natural gas with more than about 20% hydrogen, so would have to be replaced. Safety concerns about hydrogen combustion in enclosed domestic spaces would also need to be fully understood and addressed.

So, the widespread use of hydrogen is far from straight-forward. However, the pace of research and investment is rapidly increasing as the push for decarbonisation moves on, and there are positive results:

  • We have worked with the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) to study in detail the potential for storing hydrogen and hydrogen gas mixtures underground in salt caverns, which can then be used in gas turbines when demand for energy is high. We are also looking at opportunities with Ports and Councils on low carbon infrastructure that will form part of the equation.
  • Northern Gas Networks are progressing their H21 City Gate project to replace natural gas with hydrogen while using existing gas networks, incorporating CCS and hydrogen storage in the Yorkshire salt caverns, and are looking to extend this to Hull.
  • Peel Holdings are working on a hydrogen hub in the North West to decarbonise heating and energy production for a mixed-use development.
  • Alstom has developed a Hydrogen fuel cell powered version of its Coradia iLint suburban train and is testing it in Germany. The test runs in Lower Saxony use hydrogen generated as a by-product of industrial processes. In the longer term, Alstom aims to support production of hydrogen using wind power.
  • Fuel Cell Systems, working with the University of Birmingham and Hitachi Rail Europe, has completed a six- month study for the UK rail industry, which shows that hydrogen fuel cell technology can be successfully retro-fitted to extend the life of existing rolling stock. Funded by RSSB and Network Rail, the project demonstrated that the use of fuel cell technology could reduce journey times, eliminate emissions at the point of use and improve passenger comfort through smooth and rapid acceleration and minimal noise and vibration.

This is a really exciting opportunity for the UK and the North of England to be at the forefront of the low carbon economy. But it requires leadership in thinking across traditional market boundaries and between projects. Something Atkins is ideally positioned to lead.

UK & Europe,

It generally comes from large generating stations of various types and is delivered to us through the National Grid. But the landscape is changing, devolving, localising, which presents the regions, and the North of England in particular, with a golden opportunity to shape it for the future.

The population and demographic in the North’s towns and cities will continue to evolve, as will the demand for skills and the modes of transport people will use to get to their place of work. Major infrastructure, including inter-city projects such as HS2 and HS3 (linking the cities of the North), new road links and new nuclear power stations, will drive some of this change and the need for people and skills. Ways of working are also changing as more people use technology to enable their daily lives. And mobility will change and become more intelligent within cities. On top of this we have devolution.

With its long history of manufacturing and innovation in industry, the North already has a great foundation from which to build. It has been home to several nuclear power stations for decades, with new facilities in the pipeline, and has seen rapidly–developing, large-scale offshore wind in the North Sea and Irish Sea. Its deep water ports allow the region to service the offshore oil and gas and renewable industries, and are ideally located on the East coast to service future carbon capture and storage. There’s also a potential tidal lagoon off the Cumbrian coast, and the region has the people and skills to build, operate and maintain these facilities.

Through the grid, the power generated in the North can be used anywhere. But how could the North capture the benefits? Perhaps this can come from consideration of energy use and ownership of supply. Local low carbon generation linked to local distribution networks could provide additional resilience, and this will also add economic opportunity in construction and operation. If we align this with the long term change in demand for people and skills, upcoming major infrastructure and changes through technology in how and where we work, it starts to look like we have a strategy for energy that can be lower carbon, can give greater local control and is more shaped to meet future changes in demand, particularly when storage to buffer large scale generation is added to the mix.

Atkins is working with IPPR North and other partners to help develop this strategy for the North. This will inform policy makers on future investment and devolution in energy policy. It will also help to shape policy around the wider infrastructure the North will need in the future. This is a great time for the North to grab this opportunity to shape its own low carbon, resilient energy future.

UK & Europe,

So, what’s the energy challenge?

News stories about the UK “energy gap” are widespread. According to the government, bill payers are reluctant to subsidise low carbon forms of energy such as onshore wind and biomass, but what are the other options? The coal fleet will close by 2025. Carbon capture and storage has been kicked into the long grass. Nobody wants waste incinerators in their back yard, despite them being a clean, low carbon technology. Very few new gas fired power stations are being built (and they don’t count as low carbon anyway). Taking all these points into consideration you might think we are in serious trouble. Not quite…

In recent years there have been a number of advancements by those working in the energy sector and where plans are being delivered at pace to create an energy hub in West Cumbria, commonly referred to as the “Energy Coast”. The region has ambitious plans to build up to 10GW of new generation capacity, all low carbon, equating to about 10% of the total UK energy demand.

There are already well-developed plans for the Moorside nuclear power station (3.4GW), and a further 600MW nuclear capacity at Sellafield. The area is also ideal for a tidal lagoon, which would generate a further 3.2GW. The offshore wind fields in the Solway Firth can be expanded to deliver a further 1.5GW. All connected to the new high voltage interconnector currently being built by National Grid. We’re also expecting to see further advances in waste to energy and local generation connected to heat networks in the region. These are all incredibly exciting opportunities for building a diverse energy mix in the Northern Powerhouse.

Ultimately, due to uncertain long term policy and strategy from government on energy, local authorities need to take the lead, and we can work in partnership with them, enabling them to deliver localised energy, such as heat distribution networks and micro-grids. This can then engender energy-led infrastructure. The outcome of this would be cities and local communities collaborating across the Northern Powerhouse to create connected, decentralised energy generation networks providing resilient low carbon energy for communities across the region. Combined with large scale generation at Cumbria’s Energy Coast, public services and bill payers will reap the benefits of a resilient and low carbon energy supply for years to come.

UK & Europe,