A hydrogen heating campaign has launched to raise awareness of the benefits heating homes with hydrogen could have.
100% hydrogen boilers are not yet available in the UK but a hydrogen-ready boiler can run with a hydrogen mix of 20%. And one benefit of opting for hydrogen heating is that transferring to hydrogen gas in the future is expected to be easy for those with a hydrogen-ready boiler because it can convert to hydrogen without the need for an entirely new heating system.
'Hello Hydrogen' is a new campaign from leading names in the UK energy industry including Worcester Bosch and Cadent Gas, which is also highlighting how hydrogen boilers could lower carbon emissions from homes, by 20 million tonnes a year, after switching from natural gas.
Angela Needle, campaign director of Hello Hydrogen, said: “As people start to turn on their heating again, we think now is the perfect time to begin the conversation about how we will all heat our homes in the future.
“We want households to know that there will be numerous ways to warm up their radiators or cook their dinner and hydrogen could be the right choice for them."
The campaign is also urging the government to restate its commitment to embracing hydrogen heating in homes and to help make it a viable choice for UK households.
Why is hydrogen heating being developed?
Hydrogen could have a key role to play in heating existing homes while lowering carbon emissions from natural gas boilers.
Currently around 85% of UK homes are heated with polluting natural gas, and hydrogen technology is considered by experts to have a key role in helping the UK reach net zero by 2050. This is because the main by-product of burning hydrogen gas is water, which represents a way of greening up the gas grid.
While renewable tech such as air source heat pumps and ground source heat pumps, which run off electricity, will be vital in heating our homes this technology might not be suitable for all homes due to installation requirements.
Blending hydrogen into the gas grid could also help to cut emissions from homeowners' gas stoves and from gas power plants that supply electricity to homes and businesses.
What is a hydrogen boiler?
Hydrogen boilers have been developed by manufacturers such as Baxi Heating, Worcester Bosch and Viessmann to run on 100% hydrogen as well as natural gas.
While 100% boilers are not yet available (more on this below), hydrogen-ready boilers are available which can run with a hydrogen mix of up to 20%. These boilers will enable a smooth transition to hydrogen when hydrogen is introduced to the UK gas grid, without changes to cookers or boilers.
In February 2022, the Heating and Hotwater Industry Council revealed a new labelling system for hydrogen appliances that has been agreed by its appliance manufacturers. The new labels will display three distinct categories of hydrogen appliances:
- 'Hydrogen Blend' compatible - capable of running on a blend of up to 20% hydrogen in the gas network.
- 'Hydrogen-Ready' appliances - capable of running on a 20% blend but with the capability of being converted to run on a 100% hydrogen gas network
- '100% Hydrogen' boiler - capable of running on hydrogen without the need for conversion.
How will hydrogen heating work in our homes?
Hydrogen heating is intended to work either as a full replacement for fossil fuel gas heating, or as a blend with natural gas.
Although the future of hydrogen heating in homes will most likely be a combination of a heat pump and a hydrogen boiler, according to Remeha, part of BDR Thermea Group in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands are frontrunners in the development of hydrogen heating, which has a huge, comprehensive natural gas distribution network and is in the midst of transitioning from natural gas to zero carbon: either through electricity, hydrogen or biogas.
Remeha says that the complexities of each of the two low-carbon heating options means a combination of the two would be the likeliest way to effectively heat our homes. A small heat pump would be effective for tackling outside temperatures up to 0ºC, then when it starts to freeze, the boiler would begin to heat up the home.
However, a study in September 2022 stated that hydrogen was unlikely to play a major role in home heating due to the technical difficulties that would be needed to be overcome.
Jan Rosenow, Europe director at the Regulatory Assistance Project, an energy thinktank which published the study, said: “Using hydrogen for heating may sound attractive at first glance. However, all of the independent research on this topic comes to the same conclusion: heating with hydrogen is a lot less efficient and more expensive than alternatives such as heat pumps, district heating and solar thermal."
Is hydrogen heating safe?
Heating homes with hydrogen was shown to be feasible and safe in September 2021, following the results of the first HyDeploy pilot trial at Keele University.
In the trial, 20% of hydrogen was injected and blended into Keele University's existing private gas network, which supplies 30 faculty buildings and 100 domestic properties.
And while a study in August 2021 claimed hydrogen boilers could cause four times more explosions than natural gas boilers, it also revealed that this could be fixed by installing two excess flow valves to easily regulate how hydrogen flows through the pipes.
Government to decide on hydrogen use in 2026
The government revealed in its Heat and Buildings Strategy last year that it will not make a firm decision on what role hydrogen will play in heating the UK’s homes until 2026.
And earlier this year, in an update to the government's Hydrogen Strategy (also published in 2021), it was confirmed that a range of research is now underway to develop hydrogen infrastructure and test its efficacy in UK homes ahead of the 2026 decision.
The Strategy lays out the groundwork for ensuring up to 35% of the UK’s energy consumption comes from hydrogen by 2035, powering up to three million homes. Moreover, it states that the government will look to enable or require new gas boilers to be easily convertible to hydrogen by 2026.
In June, the Climate Change Committee criticised the government's progress in reducing carbon emissions, and the Institution of Gas Engineers & Managers (IGEM) has urged the government to commit to hydrogen-ready boilers by 2023.
Meanwhile, the Energy Networks Association (ENA), the industry body representing energy network operators in the UK, said earlier this year that it is preparing capability to introduce 20% hydrogen into the regular UK gas grid from 2023.
How expensive will hydrogen heating be?
The cost of hydrogen production is one of the biggest criticisms surrounding its use in homes.
Cornwall Insight published a report in September claiming that under the UK government's current plans for 100% hydrogen boilers to be installed in homes, household fuel bills could increase by 70-90%, on average, compared with using natural gas.
Jitendra Patel, senior consultant at Cornwall Insight, said of the report: “While hydrogen does have a part to play in the decarbonisation pathway, through for example use in the industrial sectors and in the use of surplus electricity, current and forecast costs all show it is simply uneconomical to use 100% hydrogen fuel for heating our homes.”
However, Cornwall Insight added that found that blending hydrogen with gas would result in much smaller price increases for home heating.
Hydrogen is costly to produce because it relies on either using renewable energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen (the process used to make 'green hydrogen'), or using carbon capture technology to prevent emissions being released by splitting fossil fuel gas into 'blue hydrogen'.
Environmentalists including climate think tank E3G, WWF, and Greenpeace have previously urged the government to ignore what they call “hype” over the use of hydrogen to provide heat, citing the expensive processes to create green hydrogen and expressing doubts over the environmentally-friendly credentials of carbon capture technology used to create blue hydrogen.
However, in July 2021 the boiler industry’s big four manufacturers confirmed that a hydrogen-ready boiler will cost no more than its natural gas equivalent. Baxi, Worcester Bosch, Vaillant and Ideal confirmed that a new price-promise will be introduced which could save homeowners £2.3 billion.
Boiler Guide estimates that pricing would be similar to natural gas boilers - somewhere between £400 to £3,000 before factoring in the installation.
Which hydrogen trials are ongoing?
In November 2020, the government 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.
The Humber could reportedly be one of the first towns to trial hydrogen in its pipes through the conversion of the local grid and the replacement of boilers, meters and hobs.
The government has also invested £25m into the Hy4Heat programme, a pilot scheme in Scotland to heat 300 homes with 100% hydrogen via the existing gas grid due to take place in 2023.
These are some of the other trials ongoing:
Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading
Hydrogen-ready boilers will be installed at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in what is believed to be the first use of this technology in the NHS.
Veolia, which is managing the installation, says the project will reduce distribution heat loss and improve control of the heating and hot water systems in the hospital, saving around 3.8GWh of gas and 850 tonnes of carbon per year.
Port of Milford Haven, Wales
A 'world's first' hydrogen hybrid heating system is being tested that combines a Worcester Bosch boiler that runs on hydrogen and an air source heat pump. It has been installed at a commercial building at the Port of Milford Haven and is managed using a smart control system developed by Passiv UK.
Low Thornley, Gateshead
The UK's first homes to be fuelled entirely with hydrogen heating officially opened for public demonstration in July 2021. The two semi-detached homes based at Northern Gas Networks' innovation site in Low Thornley, Gateshead are powered entirely by hydrogen boilers — developed by Baxi Heating and Worcester Bosch.
All of the appliances including hobs, cookers and fires are hydrogen-powered, and these will be rotated so different manufacturers can showcase their innovations and seek consumer feedback.
Gas network operator SGN submitted plans in 2021 for H100, the world’s first domestic hydrogen heating grid. The first homes in the world to use green hydrogen through a local gas grid , in Fife, Scotland, had been expected to receive the hydrogen in early 2023.
But the project has been since been thrown into doubt. Recruitment for the scheme was due to begin in September 2021 but only begun in May, and there have been delays to the construction of a flagship “demonstration facility”.
In November 2020, Baxi and Worcester Bosch boilers were installed into the first UK homes to demonstrate the technology’s efficiency.
The trials in Northumberland will aim to prove the safety and efficacy of converting homes and gas networks to hydrogen, and demonstrate how existing gas networks can be repurposed to safely carry 100% hydrogen.
In the first HyDeploy pilot trial, 20% of hydrogen was injected and blended into Keele University's existing private gas network, which supplies 30 faculty buildings and 100 domestic properties.
The published results in September 2021 revealed that the hydrogen blend had no adverse effects for users, and had the potential to reduce carbon emissions.
In a separate HyDeploy trial in Gateshead, 670 homes in 2021 become some of the first in the UK to trial natural gas blended with hydrogen.
Get the Homebuilding & Renovating Newsletter
Bring your dream home to life with expert advice, how-to guides and design inspiration, direct to your inbox.
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.