The UK's first homes to be fuelled entirely with hydrogen heating have been officially opened for public demonstration.
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.
Energy minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan officially opened the homes, which will give members of the public an opportunity to experience a zero-emission hydrogen-fulled home.
“It was a privilege to officially open these new homes in Gateshead. While they look like any other house, this innovative project offers an opportunity for the public to experience hydrogen technology in a real-world setting, opening a window to what the future could hold as we build back greener," she said.
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.
The homes will now be made available for schools, colleges and universities to visit, to help raise awareness about energy efficiency in homes.
Why is Hydrogen Heating Being Developed?
Currently around 85% of 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.
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 hydrogen boilers could be a viable low-carbon heating system in the future.
Hydrogen heating has government support too. The 10-point plan published in November, as part of the government’s Green Industrial Revolution, 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.
And earlier this year, a £60m cash boost was announced by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to scale up the development of low-carbon hydrogen in the UK. The funding will be used to bring down the costs of producing hydrogen and help identify and scale up more efficient solutions for making clean hydrogen from water using electricity.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, UK Energy & Climate Change Minister, said: “Heating in buildings forms a significant part of the UK’s carbon footprint. In order to tackle climate change, changing the way people power their homes, from cooking, heating and running a bath, while making sure consumers pay a fair price, is critical so that the UK moves away from using fossil fuels and cuts its emissions."
A Hydrogen Strategy is Due
The government has been due to publish a Hydrogen Strategy to elucidate how to progress hydrogen heating, including trialing homes using hydrogen for heating and cooking.
Upon its publication, the Hydrogen Strategy is expected to detail the roadmap to advancing hydrogen technology, and how it will be used to heat our homes.
The Guardian reports that the strategy could be unveiled this week, although the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) told Homebuilding & Renovating that it while it would be published this year, no date has been set.
Sixteen other countries have already developed a hydrogen strategy, and at the very latest, the government will want to ensure it is published before the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November.
A 'Ready-to-go' Solution
One of the key benefits in swapping to hydrogen from gas is that it will involve very little disruption to homeowners.
Hydrogen boilers like the ones developed by Baxi Heating 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.
Plus, hydrogen-ready boilers such as Viessmann's Vitodens 100-W gas condensing boiler — which is capable of running with a hydrogen mix of up to 20% — can not only help homeowners reduce their energy bills and cut carbon emissions, but enable a smooth transition to hydrogen in the event that hydrogen is introduced to the UK gas grid in the near future.
It is widely expected that no new natural gas boilers will be installed in new UK homes from 2025, which will be confirmed in the Heat and Buildings Strategy, while ministers are reportedly considering a cut-off date of 2035 for natural gas boiler installations in existing homes.
This could mean millions of British households would either need to replace their boilers with heat pumps or install hydrogen-ready boilers capable of running on hydrogen gas.
But Hydrogen Heating Faces Obstacles
One of the main criticisms of hydrogen heating is that it can be costly to produce, which could limit its availability. 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'.
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.
And in March, Professor Shah, head of the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College London, gave evidence to MPs and spoke about the possible role of hydrogen in residential heating, noting this is more likely to come in the form of hybrid systems which include heat pumps.
However, the costs of installing heat pumps (which can range from £8,000-£14,000) are reportedly concerning homeowners. Only 6% of consumers are willing to pay the full £14,000 cost of heat pump installation, according to a report by the Energy & Utilities Alliance (EUA), while 72% of homeowners would support efforts of UK manufacturers to develop low-carbon gas boilers like hydrogen ones.
Which Trials are Ongoing?
In November 2020, 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.
Low Thornley, Gateshead
The aforementioned opening of the UK's first homes to be powered entirely by hydrogen boilers will showcase how the fuel can be used to replace natural gas.
The government-funded project is being coordinated by Northern Gas Network and Cadent. The homes will run on hydrogen tanks provided on site.
The two semi-detached homes that have been constructed by gas distributers Cadent and NGN with support from the Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
Fas network operator SGN submitted plans earlier this year 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 will move ahead in Fife, Scotland by the end of next year, subject to planning permission.
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.
Three purpose-built houses at the RAF Spadeadam base in Cumbria are being used to test out 100% hydrogen homes.
The H21 is a series of a test projects that aim to prove the gas grid can be converted to hydrogen, which are being conducted on a wild hillside at a Royal Air Force base.
Tim Harwood, who is running the H21 pilot project near Carlisle, says the gas grid could be ready to switch to hydrogen within two years, but has called for greater hydrogen capacity to be made available by the government.
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.
A £4.8m hydrogen hub to be set up in Wales to pilot the creation of hydrogen from renewable energy was announced in the Spring Budget.
Jack is News Editor of Homebuilding & Renovating and strives to break the most relevant and beneficial stories for self builders and renovators. Having bought his first home in 2013, he and his wife have renovated almost every room and recently finished a garden renovation. Jack reports on all of the latest news that could affect your project.
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