European Projects Showcase Hydrogen’s Potential

UWUA National Vice President Craig Pinkham recently traveled with a diverse labor delegation to see two European projects focused on hydrogen as an energy source: an electrolyzer in Spain and a U.K. experiment in residential use of hydrogen. The tour was an opportunity to see how hydrogen might evolve in the United States under the H2Hubs program.

In Spain, the group visited a plant in Puertollano owned by the oil company Repsol. Built in the 1960s as a diesel refinery, the plant has focused on reducing its carbon emissions and becoming a pillar of Repsol’s renewable fuels strategy.

Pinkham was struck by how Repsol’s electrolyzer for hydrogen production overlaid new technology on the footprint of old technology. “By leveraging new technologies on a traditional energy platform, Repsol is enabling traditional utility workers to become the utility workers of the future,” he said.

In Whitby, on England’s east coast, natural gas companies Cadent and British Gas explored converting a community’s 2,000 properties from natural gas to hydrogen for heating and cooking. This was part of a government program to establish the U.K.’s first model hydrogen village.

As would happen in a similar initiative in the U.S., every home had to be surveyed for safety hazards and conversion requirements for appliances and infrastructure to run on hydrogen. Pinkham visited a model home with a hydrogen-powered hot water heater, boiler, and stove/oven.

The many dimensions of the project made it clear that gas workers will be crucial to the future of hydrogen. “Utility workers working on existing gas lines will be needed when hydrogen runs through these same or enhanced lines. The hydrogen system will use existing infrastructure so the existing workforce will be needed. Rather than see these new technologies as threats, we need to adapt and look to secure this work for our current and future members,” Pinkham said.

Moreover, the transition will be lengthy. Pinkham noted, “Hydrogen is a real possibility but it’s in its infancy and has not yet developed at utility scale. In some ways the jury is still out as to just what part hydrogen will play at a utility scale. However, whether it becomes an energy source of choice or a supplemental energy source, utility workers are poised to be the workforce that constructs, operates, and maintains the system.”