To reach our net zero targets, we will need to change the way in which we heat our homes and buildings. Hydrogen Industry Leaders explores if hydrogen boilers are the answer to decarbonising the way we heat our homes.
Currently, heating homes account for 17% of the UK’s carbon emissions and 85% of UK homes are heated by a natural gas boiler.
With goals to reduce 75% of GHG emissions by 2035 and reach net zero by 2050, the UK have a need for a sustainable, carbon-free heating solution.
Hydrogen has the potential to efficiently produce heat for homes and act as a clean energy alternative to fossil fuels and natural gas.
Hydrogen could play a key role in domestic heating
The extent of the potential of hydrogen boilers is still uncertain. This uncertainty comes from a lack of confidence because there are many unanswered questions so far when it comes to hydrogen boilers.
It is expected that the first step in the hydrogen heating transition is introducing a 20% hydrogen blend into the UK mains supply. This will see 20% of the fuel source powering the appliance being hydrogen, with the remaining 80% being natural gas.
In the Energy Networks Association (ENA) ‘Britain’s Hydrogen Blending Delivery Plan’ it is suggested that this 20% reduction of natural gas in heating systems will generate the same reduction in emissions as taking 2.5 million cars off the road.
Boiler manufacturers have been working on a new hydrogen-ready standard which will mean that the UK can switch as easy as possible to 100% hydrogen in the future.
Hydrogen boilers should be a similar cost to natural gas boilers today
Though there have been trials proposed by the government and gas companies to see if hydrogen boilers work on a community level, hydrogen for home heating has not yet been fully proven on a large scale.
In December 2022, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee report titled ‘The Role of Hydrogen in Achieving Net Zero’ expressed how it thinks that hydrogen could play a role in domestic heating but: “The extent of its potential is still uncertain and looks likely to be limited rather than widespread. We are unconvinced its deployment will prove to be economically viable by the time the Government has said it will determine the role of hydrogen boilers, in 2026.”
In addition to this, there is currently no set date for hydrogen boilers to be available, but it is likely that hydrogen-ready boilers will begin to appear on the market in the next few years.
Boiler manufacturers have already built prototypes for the boilers, with many calling for legislation to implement that all new gas boilers sold from 2025 onwards be hydrogen-ready.
The Heat and Buildings Strategy has set out specific steps that the UK Government will take to assess the feasibility of hydrogen for heating.
- Developing hydrogen for heating buildings by thoroughly assessing the feasibility, safety, consumer experience and other costs and benefits, by the middle of the decade
- Establishing large-scale trials of hydrogen for heating
- Enabling the blending of hydrogen in the gas grid
- Consulting on hydrogen-ready boilers
- Developing the evidence base necessary to take strategic decisions on the role of hydrogen for heating buildings in 2026
Though there is uncertainty about how much it will cost to run a hydrogen boiler, there is no reason why these boilers shouldn’t be a similar cost to natural gas boilers today. This is due to the components and controls being identical to those used for natural gas boilers.
The property will need a hydrogen-ready gas meter to be fitted ready for network conversion, but this could be installed on a later date than the boiler. However, the conversion from natural gas to hydrogen is said to only take an hour and only involves changing a couple of components.
There is no need to overhaul existing infrastructure
Hydrogen is promising as a low-carbon fuel and the government sees it as an essential way of reaching our goal of being net zero as a country by 2050.
A hydrogen-ready boiler can work with an existing high-temperature heating system in a hard-to-heat building, and where costs are highly constrained, the boiler will provide an accessible way to decarbonise heat.
From an end-user point of view, a hydrogen boiler doesn’t require any behaviour change and will provide the same delivery of comfort as an already existing appliance.
Hydrogen is a more efficient fuel than the natural gas currently being used within boilers. As an efficient energy carrier, it will take significantly less fuel to produce enough heat for a house. Due to this reduction in fuel consumption, domestic bills should decrease.
Implementing hydrogen benefits the whole energy system, as by creating a national hydrogen economy, doors will be opened to the wide-scale use of hydrogen for different sectors. For example, hydrogen is seen as an attractive technology for commercial and heavy transport applications.