Mixed Messaging on Hydrogen: Where Does the UK Government Stand?
In a huge contradiction to the net zero agenda, the government is heavily considering mandating all domestic boilers to be hydrogen ready by 2026, while equally, the Science and Technology Committee has issued concerns about the use of hydrogen for domestic heating. 

Looking to offer an incentive to the private sector to consider their UK business strategy, mixed signals from a different committee are creating confusion about the UK government’s stance on hydrogen.

Separately, BEIS has recently allocated £77m to support nuclear fuel production and next-generation advanced nuclear reactors in the UK and a further £25m for new technologies that will generate clean hydrogen from biomass and waste. 

Support packages to introduce hydrogen into the housing sector to be made available

The benefit of such hydrogen-ready boilers is they can burn natural gas while hydrogen production capacity is increased and can easily be converted and retrofitted as hydrogen blends increase in the future. 

In the consultation document launched in December 2022, the government argues that there is a “strong case” for the introduction of hydrogen-ready boilers as standard from 2026. 

Guarding against a boom and bust for hydrogen boilers, the consultation clearly outlined that the success of hydrogen boilers rests on the ability that: “these boilers can meet all relevant regulatory standards, that they can reach price parity with existing gas boilers if deployed market-wide, and assuming that a single market-wide definition can be agreed”, the document said.

A call for evidence approach will future-proof hydrogen in housing

The CfE followed the publication of the UK Hydrogen Strategy on 17 August 2021. In the Strategy, the government committed to running a CfE on hydrogen-ready industrial equipment by the end of 2022. The published CfE focussed on industrial boilers due to their widespread use and because BEIS analysis indicates a significant proportion of the demand for hydrogen in the industry will come from this equipment category. 

Furthermore, the technology required for hydrogen boilers is relatively advanced and more standardised than for other types of industrial equipment. For these reasons, industrial boiler equipment presents a good test case for hydrogen-ready industrial equipment more broadly. 

However, it warned that at this stage, there is “no guarantee” that any hydrogen-ready boilers will ultimately be converted to run on hydrogen gas. Introducing a price promise for hydrogen boilers to cost no more than natural gas, there are strong hopes for public approval for future projects. 

Mike Foster, chief executive of the Energy and Utilities Alliance and the Heating & Hotwater Industry Council, said a mandate is an “important step towards decarbonising homes.” He added: “The government are absolutely right to support this no-regrets option. Boiler manufacturers have already made their ‘price promise’ so that a new hydrogen-ready boiler will cost the same as a natural gas appliance.

Energy minister Lord Callanan said: “With its potential to go one step further than net zero and be carbon negative – removing greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere – this hydrogen technology will be crucial to achieving our climate goals.

 Our £25m government funding to develop this technology will help unlock private investment and generate new green jobs – all while cutting carbon emissions

Mixed Message Approach Will Spook Private Investors

Despite this potential policy announcement coming from the central government, the role of hydrogen in achieving Net Zero report laid out doubts about the role out of hydrogen across multiple sectors. It stated: “It seems likely that any future use of hydrogen will be limited rather than universal.”

Taking this a step further, the report author clearly opposed the recommendations from the Climate Change Committee. They stated: “This limited use of hydrogen should inform government decisions. For example, we disagree with the CCC recommendation that the government should mandate new domestic boilers.” 

The committee instead found that essential questions remain to be answered as to how future quantities of hydrogen can be produced, distributed and used in ways that are compatible with net zero and cost efficiency. 

With the private sector looking to the government for incentivisation to invest in the hydrogen sector and help answer these underlying questions, the confused mixed messaging can prove to be damaging and a real hindrance to the role out of the hydrogen economy. 

While a no-regret approach to net zero is important, it is equally essential that the private sector receives clear messages on what the future of the hydrogen economy will look like. These concerns are not just being felt across the domestic heating sector, other key players in the hydrogen economy will be keeping a close eye on policy recommendations and decisions over the upcoming years.