Reaching net zero in Cheshire will require the decarbonisation of the whole industrial energy system across heating, transport and power. Invest Net Zero Cheshire has developed a data-driven, holistic roadmap which will drive investment into new technologies and infrastructure. This blueprint identifies an unrivalled range of low carbon energy projects, across renewables, hydrogen, carbon capture, energy storage, and smart grids, which collectively offer long-term, sustainable investment opportunities in net zero.
Cheshire, in the North West of England, is home to one of the UK’s largest industrial clusters. The region features major manufacturing employers, including oil refining, glass manufacture, nuclear enrichment, chemical production and automotive.
This concentration of industry means the area around Ellesmere Port consumes around 5% of the UK’s energy, with Cheshire West and Chester the fourth largest carbon emitter in the country and a climate emergency declared locally.
Located along the M56 corridor between the cities of Chester, Manchester and Liverpool the area has access to a highly skilled workforce, academic institutions and R&D expertise which can drive innovation. Across the North West the drive towards net zero could deliver and 33,000 jobs.
We have an opportunity to deliver a new whole energy system which could provide secure, low carbon and lower cost energy to support our vital industries. Once proven in Cheshire, this innovative approach to industrial decarbonisation could be replicated across the UK and even overseas.
To reach net zero we need to find ways to decarbonise the energy used by industry.
To develop a portfolio of viable projects that meet the aim of net zero carbon emissions while satisfying the energy demands of the area, the energy use of industry was split into four energy vectors (or ‘carriers’): electricity; heat; hydrogen; and gas.
The electricity distribution network that supplies the area is managed and operated by SP Energy Networks. Electricity delivered through the distribution network is generated through a mixture of fossil fuel, nuclear and renewable generation. Increasing the amount of low carbon electricity generated and used by industry is key to reducing carbon emissions.
Electricity energy projects in the region were assessed against the following objectives:
- The energy needs of the stakeholders must be met
- The projects align with the business ambitions of the stakeholders
- There will be an overall reduction in carbon emissions
- The projects are financially feasible
This produced an initial project list which was then refined on the principle of lowest carbon for least cost. The overall cost for each project was assessed, including looking at existing electricity infrastructure load capacity data to evaluate any potential upgrade costs required to the electricity network to meet any increase in electricity demand.
Locations within the project area were identified that would be suitable for renewable energy projects, including solar PV and wind for electricity generation.
Heat demand is generally met using electricity generated from natural gas. Natural gas is a carbon-intensive fuel and heat source. Replacing it with low carbon alternatives, such as industrial waste heat, hydrogen or electrical heat from renewable sources is vital to reduce carbon emissions.
The use of industrial heat within the region was evaluated to identify suitable projects that could be deployed to reduce the carbon intensity of heat demand. These projects were evaluated to understand their impacts on electricity and hydrogen demand needed to move away from heat produced by natural gas.
The feasibility of using waste heat, generated from industrial processes, to be re-used was also assessed. This included evaluating the potential for heat networks, which link heat generators to heat users to improve the efficiency of heat use and to reduce waste.
Hydrogen, when produced using renewable electricity, is a zero-carbon energy source. Production of ‘green’ hydrogen increases overall electricity demand, however hydrogen can be used to replace natural gas in industrial processes where the use of electricity is not suitable. Projected future electricity demand to enable increased hydrogen production was assessed.
The North West is also home to leading hydrogen and carbon capture project HyNet. This is primarily exploring options around ‘blue’ hydrogen which uses gasification technologies to turn fossil fuels or biomass into hydrogen, while using carbon capture technology to capture associated carbon emissions.
Hydrogen can also be used as an energy storage medium. Stored hydrogen is able to provide flexible power supply when the sun doesn’t shine and wind doesn’t blow. Hydrogen can also be safely stored in underground salt caverns. Geologically, Cheshire is one of the few places in the UK where underground gas storage in salt caverns already exists at scale, paving the way for potential hydrogen storage.
An assessment was made of the net natural gas demand based on the projects outlined within the other energy vectors. This assessment established the residual natural gas demand which is not ready for transition to electricity or hydrogen use, either due to technical or commercial barriers faced by industrial users.
To continue the journey to net zero beyond the Net Zero Cheshire route map, trials are upcoming to explore hydrogen injection into the natural gas distribution network to create a gas blend. This gas blend will have reduced carbon intensity but can still be burned by users without significant technological changes, as might be needed from a pure hydrogen burner. The HyDeploy project is trialling blending hydrogen in the gas network in Keele, with further demonstrations planned for the North East and North West. Carbon capture and storage can also provide a route to net zero for industrial users with residual natural gas demand if appropriate commercial incentives can be captured.
Developing a project portfolio
Firstly, industrial energy users were contacted to understand their existing and future energy demands. From this a portfolio of projects was developed by assessing each energy vector for opportunities to reduce carbon emissions for individual industrial energy users.
Energy Systems Catapult undertook carbon modelling to evaluate the impact on carbon emissions from the project portfolio. EA Technology modelled the projects’ impacts on the local electricity network and examined the feasibility of opportunities for flexible network connections and private wire arrangements.
The projects identified and shortlisted were assessed for their commercial viability and investment opportunity. Ikigai developed high-level business cases for each project to evaluate the financial benefits and opportunities of each. From this a private and public sector capital investment plan was developed to ensure that the routemap moves swiftly from feasibility analysis to on-the-ground delivery with complementary partners.
The portfolio was then holistically evaluated to determine the overall net benefit across all four energy vectors, which produced a refined portfolio of projects and a blueprint for reaching net zero carbon emissions.
The projects identified in the Invest Net Zero Cheshire blueprint can be see here.