Investing in people and pipes for a greener, fairer future

Build back better

‘Build back better’ is a phrase that has been used a lot in recent months, as we look for imaginative ways of recovering from the seismic economic shock of 2020.

The phrase implies that recovery policies need to have a central focus on well-being and inclusiveness, as well as a strong environmental emphasis.

At Northern Gas Networks, we couldn’t agree more. These themes will be central to our investment and policy decisions over the next five years.

As the North of England’s gas distributor, we are seeking to reinvent the way we use our vast network of underground pipes – re-purposing them to carry green, sustainable hydrogen to homes and businesses, instead of traditional methane gas.

A hydrogen revolution can not only help the UK meet its net zero carbon targets, but can also establish the North of England as a world-leading expert in this fuel for the future – creating thousands of new jobs.

Even before the pandemic, our H21 project was helping to alert industry and central and local government to the benefits of hydrogen.

As part of this wide-ranging programme, we have created a bespoke testing facility at RAF Spadeadam in Cumbria, to demonstrate that hydrogen can travel safely through existing gas pipes. A further site, at a disused housing estate in Redcar and Cleveland, is now being prepared for real-world trials.

We are also a key partner in HyDeploy – a pilot project in which local homes get to test a blend of natural gas with 20% hydrogen, for all of their usual cooking and heating needs.

It’s easy to get excited about this technology and the contribution it can make to a net zero economy, but we must invest in people, as well as pipes.

In September, we launched our latest engineering apprenticeship scheme, to recruit a diverse range of young people to grow their careers with us and help us create greener energy for the future.

In October, we launched our Opportunity Action Plan, in partnership with former Secretary of State for Education, Rt Hon. Justine Greening. This is a practical strategy dedicated to ‘levelling up’ the employment landscape, empowering everyone to develop their talents and fulfil their potential, regardless of background or income.

As part of the Action Plan, we will be focusing on areas in our region that have lower access to opportunities, by delivering support from early years through to adulthood. Activity will range from mentoring programmes for school children, through to work experience and apprenticeship opportunities.

Through initiatives such as these, we are proud to help create a more equitable and environmentally sustainable region, at a time when we all desperately need to see some green shoots.

By Melanie Taylor, Head of Stakeholder Relations, Northern Gas Networks