The UK's first two homes to be powered entirely by hydrogen heating will be built in Gateshead by April.
The boilers, hobs, cookers and fires will all run on hydrogen rather than fossil fuel gas, and release no carbon emissions. The government says the two homes in Low Thornley will showcase how the fuel can be used to replace natural gas.
Natural gas is responsible for over 30% of the UK's carbon emissions, and hydrogen technology is considered by experts to play a key role in the future of smart heating because the main by-product of burning hydrogen gas is water.
The project will be funded through a £250,000 grant from the government's Hy4Heat Innovation programme, and is being coordinated by Northern Gas Network and Cadent. The homes will run on hydrogen tanks provided on site.
Once built, members of the public will be able to step inside and see how the appliances compare with ones running on natural gas.
Hydrogen Heating Backed by Government
While renewable tech such as air source heat pumps, which run off electricity, will be vital in heating our homes, it's recognised that the technology is not suitable for all homes.
Hydrogen represents a way of greening up the gas grid, and this show of government support for the Gateshead trial marks a further step towards achieving low-carbon heating.
It follows the 10-point plan published in November, as part of the government’s Green Industrial Revolution, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson 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.
In January, Britain’s Hydrogen Network Plan, which is part of the Energy Networks Association’s Gas Goes Green programme, laid out a blueprint to establish the UK's first hydrogen town.
Mr Johnson also announced up to £500m in November to help progress hydrogen heating, including trialing homes using hydrogen for heating and cooking. Of this, £240m will go into new hydrogen production facilities.
Ministers are expected to publish the government's hydrogen strategy in the coming months, to detail how future uses of hydrogen can be advanced.
A 'Ready-to-go' Solution
The government’s hydrogen heating pledge has been celebrated by industry experts, and could represent a turning point for the way we heat our homes.
Baxi Heating told Homebuilding & Renovating that the pledge represented a “strong message of support” for hydrogen technology, while Worcester Bosch told us that the investment could mean hydrogen will be a "ready-to-go solution" for heating homes in the future.
In November, hydrogen boilers from Baxi Heating and Worcester Bosch were installed into the first UK homes to demonstrate the technology’s efficiency.
The innovative prototypes will be trialed at The ‘HyStreet’ test site in Northumberland, which consist of specially built demonstration houses. More than 200 tests will now be completed to research and prove the safety and efficacy of converting homes and gas networks to hydrogen.
The current trials in Northumberland will demonstrate how existing gas networks can be repurposed to safely carry 100% hydrogen.
And the transition might be easier than you might think. Hydrogen boilers like the ones developed by Baxi and Worcester Bosch can run on 100% hydrogen as well as natural gas.
This means that transferring to hydrogen gas in the future will be easy for those with a hydrogen-ready boiler because it can convert to hydrogen without the need for an entirely new heating system.
Which Other Trials are Ongoing?
In Scotland, gas network operator SGN has submitted plans for the world’s first domestic hydrogen heating grid. The first homes in the world to use green hydrogen through a local gas grid will move ahead in Fife, Scotland by the end of next year.
And in a separate trial in Gateshead, 670 homes will be some of the first in the UK to trial natural gas blended with hydrogen. The project will begin in early 2021 and last around 10 months.
Currently around 85% of homes are heated with polluting natural gas, and this trial could be influential to see if it can reduce emissions in these homes.
Last year, 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.
A criticism of hydrogen heating is that it can be costly to produce. This is 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'.
In January, a coalition of 33 business and civil society groups in January urged the European Commission to prioritise renewables and energy efficiency over hydrogen to help decarbonise buildings.
“While some believe that challenging renovation of buildings and the retrofitting of renewable heating systems could be avoided by introducing hydrogen for heating our buildings, the reality is different,” the signatories wrote.
“It is true that renewable hydrogen can play a role in decarbonising hard-to-abate sectors, but its direct use for heating on a large scale is problematic because it comes with many uncertainties linked to the scalability, costs of its production and inefficiencies."
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