It is clear that hydrogen as an energy source will be key to meeting UK, European and global climate goals in the next 30 years. To ensure that hydrogen can reach its potential as a sustainable fuel of the future, it must also be safe, and laws and regulations can help to ensure this. This article looks at a number of the legislative and regulatory consequences there may be.
Hydrogen production is currently regulated under a number of pieces of legislation. Key amongst these is the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (“HSWA”). Sections 2 and 3 of HSWA require employers to ensure the health and safety of workers and members of the public, so far as is reasonably practicable. The HSWA provides the framework, supplemented by a number of other regulations, to ensure that employers take all reasonable steps to protect workers from harm and it is likely to continue to play this important role in the safety landscape as the hydrogen production industry develops.
Another important regulation is the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002. This is the primary legislation dealing with control of substances that can cause fire or explosions in the workplace. Employers are required to assess the risk of fire or explosions caused by dangerous substances in the workplace. With the high flammability of hydrogen, these assessments will be key safety measures at hydrogen production sites and at other sites where hydrogen is used as fuel.
It may be that as the industry develops, more specific regulation is required. However, at this time the HSE appear to be taking the view that current health and safety legislation is fit for purpose in ensuring that hydrogen is safely produced and deployed.
Winlaton – The Trial Hydrogen Village
From August 2021 until June 2022, in the town of Winlaton, near Gateshead, hydrogen was blended with natural gas at 20% hydrogen content in a trial to assess the feasibility of using hydrogen blended natural gas in the gas network. HSE were consulted and approved the trial which was successful in providing evidence that hydrogen can be safely and effectively blended into the UK’s gas network and used as fuel in a domestic setting.
The outcomes of this trial are still being fully assessed. However, for the trial to become more widespread, there will need to be regulatory reform. Currently, Gas Safety (Management) Regulations 1996 specify that hydrogen gas may not be conveyed in the gas network unless this conveyance is at a concentration of no more than 0.1% of the gas being transported. Plainly this cap will need to be increased or removed in order for hydrogen (blended at 20% content) to be used as an energy source in either a domestic or industry setting.
Licensing will also be a key feature. Hydrogen transporters and suppliers are required, under the Gas Act 1986, to obtain gas transport and supply licences, imposing obligations to consult with the HSE and perform public safety checks. If the transportation and supply of hydrogen becomes more widespread then there will be a need to review this framework.
Energy Security Bill
The Winlaton trial can be seen as proof of concept that hydrogen can be supplied directly to domestic homes safely. The UK government is currently developing gas safety regulation to further support the domestic use of hydrogen.
The Energy Security Bill (the “Bill”) intends to amend the law to enable wider hydrogen grid conversion trials to take place. In its current form, the Bill will modify the gas code to ensure that the Gas Act applies to these trials. Duties will be placed on hydrogen gas trial operators to take necessary steps to engineer consumer appliances to use hydrogen. These operators will be allowed entry to premises at the trial location to carry out tests or otherwise carry out works needed to enable the trial. They will additionally be able to enter these premises to discontinue supply.
These proposed amendments add another layer of health and safety regulation around the use of hydrogen as fuel and is indicative that the law will need to adapt to ensure that hydrogen can be safely used at scale.
Health and safety laws will develop to ensure the safe growth of the hydrogen industry in the UK. These developments will continue to play a key role in ensuring that the public and industry remain confident that hydrogen can be a safe and sustainable fuel of the future. The HSE has a major role to play as regulator and has already shown that it is forward looking by publishing useful guidance on the use of hydrogen.