Wales & West Utilities' trial of hydrogen powered vans


Wales & West Utilities recently completed a month-long hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle trial with First Hydrogen to evaluate the potential of hydrogen for its commercial fleet. Transport manager Steve Offley discusses the trial and its success.

Like many commercial fleet owners, Wales & West Utilities (WWU) is exploring how it can decarbonise its commercial fleet. We serve over 7.5 million customers across Wales and the south west of England, providing a critical 24/7 service and maintaining a network of over 35,000km of pipes. Our teams must respond quickly to calls and often cover long distances while transporting bulky equipment.     

Meeting operational towing payloads and range demands across a diverse geography while shifting to a greener alternative for our fleet poses a significant challenge. 

Three quarters of WWU’s fleet is equipped to tow and our vehicles need to be suitable for the installation of ‘on board power’ for pneumatic equipment and high-current electric tools on site, vital for our engineers to complete repairs and updates to the network.     

While Battery Electric (BEV) has significant potential in many fleets, WWU’s previous studies showed that less than 50 per cent of WWU’s operational journeys could be completed by BEV technology.

However, data on Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles (HFCV) showed more than 95 per cent of WWU’s current journeys could be completed, presenting significant opportunities to overcome any operating constraints and concerns over the efficiency and operating costs of BEVs.     

We were excited to secure a partnership with First Hydrogen, loaning their first-of-its-kind FCEV prototype for a month-long trial earlier this year.     

First Hydrogen’s 3.5 tonne FCEV prototype was shared by two drivers from WWU’s Network Emergency & Metering Services team, who are responsible for emergency metering work in South Wales.     

The trials allowed the transport team to experience the benefits of a FCEV first-hand, and demonstrating its use in a front-line service role also gave credible findings to share with our stakeholders and other fleet operators.


With the lack of current hydrogen vehicle refuelling infrastructure in WWU’s geography, the collaborative project was supported by Protium Green Solutions and Hyppo Hydrogen Solutions to create a hydrogen eco-system to support the trial in South Wales.     

Protium Green Solutions provided green hydrogen to fuel the vehicle, which was produced at their Pioneer 1 site in Baglan. 

Green hydrogen is created via electrolysis and renewable power, meaning that there are no emissions produced as part of the process.

The demand for hydrogen in South Wales and beyond is growing, and Pioneer 1 has already been involved in other trials. Protium’s second electrolyser, Pioneer 2, will be operational in 2024.     

Hyppo Hydrogen Solutions also played a crucial role in the project, supplying their HyQube re-deployable hydrogen refuelling unit. By setting up the unit near WWU’s existing depot in Swansea, the drivers could refuel without travelling miles to a public station.     

As well as making refuelling easier, this also demonstrated a solution for areas that currently lack hydrogen refuelling infrastructure.

Performance in cold weather

The trials took place during February, which is not only WWU’s busiest period for emergency gas call outs, but also a good test of the vehicle’s performance in colder conditions. With cold and warm climates affecting vehicle performance, it was vital for us to focus on this key performance indicator.     

Variation in range makes it difficult for fleet operators to use BEVs over certain duty cycles. For many organisations operating in cooler regions, such as South Wales, predictable range expectations are business critical.

During the trials, the FCEV supported normal shift working cycles, operating between six and seven hours per day in temperatures of between 2°C and 17°C, without showing any impact on range.     

The first-of-its-kind van completed more than 2,000km over the four-week trial, travelling up to 189km per day on mostly urban roads and highways. Data collected from onboard telematics showed that the vehicle has the potential to fulfil more demanding duties, like carrying heavier payloads, driving over hilly terrain or powering auxiliary equipment (onboard power). Moreover, it was thumbs-up from the WWU team with feedback agreeing that FCEVs could help fulfil operational demands in future.       

Alun Jones, First Call Operative (FCO) for WWU and driver in First Hydrogen’s trials said: “First Hydrogen’s van is lovely to drive and allowed us to get on with our job. The fact you can quickly refuel rather than charge up overnight is a massive advantage for us as sometimes we respond to calls from our homes in the middle of the night. I can see the hydrogen vans working at WWU in terms of the efficiency we need.”     

Data collected from the onboard telematics, as well as driver feedback, will help inform future trials.

Demand for green hydrogen

While this project focused on transport (in 2022/23 WWU’s operational fleet emissions represented 44 per cent of our total emissions, excluding shrinkage), WWU has a portfolio of other hydrogen-related projects, covering industry, domestic and other transport sectors. The aim is that collectively, projects such as these can demonstrate demand for green hydrogen, stimulating the hydrogen economy in Wales and the south west of England.     

Head of net zero & sustainability at Wales & West Utilities, Matt Hindle, added: “We’re committed to reaching net zero emissions and helping our customers decarbonise too. Between 2021 and 2026, we’ll be investing £400m in our gas network and by 2035, we aim to deliver a hydrogen ready network to many areas, transforming our entire network by 2040.       

“The hydrogen vehicle project complements much of our existing work in South Wales, particularly HyLine Cymru. This is our proposal to build a 130km pipeline from Pembroke to Port Talbot, supplying low carbon hydrogen to industrial customers in the area.

Not only would this support our hard-to-decarbonise customers but can also act as the catalyst for wider hydrogen adoption.”     
Stephen Offley, transport manager for WWU comments: “Overall, we were really impressed with the performance of the vehicle and see HFCEVs playing an important role in meeting the operational needs of our commercial fleet in the future.       

“Importantly, these trials have shown it is still possible for fleet operators without fixed hydrogen refuelling infrastructure to access hydrogen mobility, and the data generated from the trials gives us a case to push for this infrastructure so we can benefit from faster refuelling and operational efficiency.”     

Fleet operators like WWU are predicted to drive zero emission vehicle sales as they commit to meeting zero-emission vehicle mandates to phase out fossil fuel vehicles in the upcoming decades.

Insights from the trials are informing Total Cost of Ownership projections, which are being shared with other fleet operators, notably those in the utilities and construction sectors.     

The initiative with First Hydrogen, Protium and Hyppo delivered more than deployment of technology; it also provided a model upon which to build public confidence in hydrogen as a safe and valuable regional asset.