Heat pumps would cost half the price of hydrogen boilers to heat homes in Europe, according to a new study.
Heat pumps were also shown to be the most energy-efficient low-carbon heating system for homeowners, with the lowest total cost for installation, maintenance and energy bills.
The research from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) offers fascinating results that will add to the debate about which heating option is most likely to dominate the market to help decarbonise homes in Europe, including the UK.
Hydrogen heating has been recently backed by the UK government as a means of greening up the gas grid, and while heat pumps, which run off electricity, will be vital in heating our homes, it's recognised that the technology will be not suitable for all homes.
But Jens Geir, German MEP and rapporteur for the European Parliament's Industry, Research and Energy Committee, said the ICCT study demonstrated why the EU should prioritise renewable hydrogen "for the sectors that are difficult to decarbonise, not for heating homes".
What the Study Found
The ICCT compared four low-carbon heating technologies and predicted their costs for heating EU homes in 2050. Air source heat pumps were found to be the most-effective, lowest-carbon means of heating a single-family home.
Heat pumps were shown to be more three to six times more efficient than hydrogen boilers, because they transfer rather than generate heat, and due to efficiency losses in the production, storage and transportation of green hydrogen.
The cost for an average single-family household in the EU to have a heat pump installed and maintained would be around €579 (£496) a year, including energy bills. The total average costs for a hydrogen boiler would come to around €1,271 (£1,090) each year.
In its analysis, the ICCT said that even if natural gas costs were 50% lower and renewable electricity prices were 50% higher, heat pumps would still be the cheaper option compared to hydrogen-only technologies.
Hybrid heat pumps which used a limited amount of green hydrogen in an auxiliary boiler were the second-most cost-effective system, proving around 30-40% less expensive than using a straight hydrogen boiler.
"Our research clearly shows that using renewable electricity directly in air source heat pumps will be a cheaper and more practical strategy for decarbonising residential heating than using hydrogen in boilers or fuel cells," said co-author Chelsea Baldino, researcher at the ICCT.
"It is more practical because it has a near zero greenhouse gas intensity and it is more efficient than all pathways using hydrogen. When hydrogen is used for heating, we find that it can only be a zero-GHG pathway if produced from renewable electricity."
The Government is Ahead on Both Technologies
The government made funding commitments to both hydrogen heating and heat pumps in its 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution in November, and this was important, because while heat pumps could end up being more efficient and inexpensive than hydrogen boilers, they won’t be suitable for every household. Pledging a roadmap to introduce green hydrogen into the gas grid is therefore a viable alternative.
Boris Johnson announced up to £500m in funding to help progress hydrogen heating, including trailing homes using hydrogen for heating and cooking. And earlier this year, it was announced that the UK's first two homes to be powered entirely by hydrogen heating will be built in Gateshead by April, which will be funded through a £250,000 grant from the government's Hy4Heat Innovation programme.
The government has also pledged to develop the first town powered entirely by hydrogen by 2030, with milestone targets along the way: starting with a hydrogen neighbourhood in 2023, moving to a hydrogen village by 2025.
On heat pumps, Downing Street pledged that 600,000 heat pumps will be installed into homes per year by 2028. And heat pump sales are set to double this year to meet growing demand.
And perhaps indicative of the government’s leaning towards heat pumps as its heating system of choice, the government recently proposed heat pumps to be a leading technology for new homes as part of the Future Homes Standard.
Under the standard, heat pumps will be classed as an energy-efficient replacement which those building an extension or renovating a house will need to consider from 2025 to meet new standards for making homes warmer.
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Jack has worked in journalism for 11 years and is the News Editor for Homebuilding & Renovating, a role he has had since 2019. He strives to break the most relevant and beneficial stories for self builders, extenders and renovators, including the latest news on the construction materials shortage and hydrogen heating. In 2021 he appeared on BBC's The World at One to discuss the government's planning reforms.
He enjoys testing new tools and gadgets, and having bought his first home in 2013, he has renovated every room and recently finished a garden renovation.