Replacing natural gas-fired boilers in UK homes is critical for the government’s 2050 net zero carbon strategy.
A recent industry report recommends ministers support plans for blending hydrogen into the UK gas network. The news is one of several findings of a report published by Jane Toogood, the UK hydrogen representative. The government has suggested it would decide by the end of the year on whether to combine up to 20% of hydrogen into gas distribution systems as part of the 2050 net zero plan.
Replacing natural gas-fired boilers is critical for a low-carbon future, as properties contribute nearly 20% of greenhouse gas emissions. Toogood believes the government should take action to approve blending to help drive further demand.
Low-carbon hydrogen is considered a green alternative to fossil fuels due to its not producing carbon dioxide when burnt. Toogood believes green and blue hydrogen could be blended into the gas network, highlighting that she agrees with the government that more than half of this portion should be electrolytic hydrogen.
There continue to be mixed thoughts on whether carbon hydrogen is appropriate for domestic boilers. Gas infrastructure companies believe moving to hydrogen boilers would be less disruptive than fitting low-carbon heating systems, such as electric heat pumps. Others have argued that mixing hydrogen would prolong the use of natural gas for heating purposes and is less economical and efficient than other alternative systems like electric heat pumps or solar thermal.
Energy analysts at Cornwall Insight predict that applying hydrogen to domestic heating could be up to 70% more expensive than conventional natural gas. Toogood urges ministers to implement an earlier date for all new gas boilers to be ‘hydrogen ready’. Toogood believes this should be closer to 2026 and was necessary due to many homes being incapable of converting to electric heat pumps.
The Health and Safety Executive is exploring the safety of applying hydrogen in domestic, commercial and industrial conditions. Until the late 60s, the UK gas networks used “town gas”, derived from coal with a high proportion of hydrogen. Toogood believes the government should explore all opportunities to electrify but highlights that the UK relies on gas, with over 80% of UK homes and 200,000 businesses dependent on natural gas. Toogood explains that low-carbon hydrogen was a burgeoning sector and didn’t necessarily offer a single solution for our future energy requirements.
The report has called on the government to enable hydrogen production projects to be delivered at scale to enhance investor confidence. Energy-intensive industries, like cement, steel and glass, are particularly relevant for applying hydrogen. Hydrogen could also support commercial aviation, ships and larger vehicles, which cannot afford extended recharging times.