Hydrogen Needs More Government Support
For net zero to be successful in the UK many feel hydrogen needs more government support. Hydrogen is perceived as the simplest, fastest and most cost-effective method for reducing carbon emissions from UK building stock prior to the 2050 net zero deadline. While the focus on heat pumps (ASHP) has captured the headlines as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels they currently have their limitations in terms of delivering effective heating in legacy structures and high-temperature hot water required for commercial applications. Work continues at pace to improve the seasonal coefficient of performance (SCOP) and water temperatures required to meet commercial building standards on construction projects, but it is recognised across the industry that heat pumps alone cannot service all commercial low-carbon demands at a meaningful installation and operational price. Therefore many, especially those dealing with property refurbishment, are looking to hydrogen to fill the deficit.
Despite the calls for action, the government has not as yet made any firm commitments beyond the initial investment in research to understand the potentiality of hydrogen as an alternative to natural gas supplies.
Now, UK ministers have offered up a plan for considering all new domestic boilers be ‘hydrogen-ready’ from 2026. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has made a statement announcing with BEIS says such a strategy will reduce replacement costs but cautions there is no guarantee homes will ultimately run on the gas. The announcement also does not offer clarity on the types of boilers, but the expectation is that the ministerial consultation will focus on 100% hydrogen-ready boilers. These appliances are supplied as standard condensing natural gas boilers that can be easily refitted with a hydrogen-compliant burner in the future when 100% hydrogen supplies become available through the gas grid.
This follows the announcement of a ban on gas boilers in new homes that comes into force in 2025, although uncertainty remains over the timeframe for the phase-out of fossil gas in existing homes. A commercial ban on boilers in new builds is still set to come into play in 2035, which better aligns with the initial rollout of hydrogen services, with a blend of just 20%. Most early recipients of hydrogen blend are expected to be heavy industrial users and potentially the commercial space. Hence BEIS’ careful response about whether homes would even benefit from the installation of hydrogen-ready boilers, especially in the period from 2026 to 2040.
The consultation, which closes in late March, argues that the strategy will reduce ‘the costs associated with scrapping natural gas-only boilers before the end of their useful life. Mandating hydrogen-ready boilers will give the industry the confidence to prepare supply chains to ensure the benefits of the potential transition are maximised,” officials said.
Hydrogen needs more government support if it is expected to play a significant role in the decarbonisation of heavy industry and the transport network. But opinion remains split on the practicality of using it in Britain’s gas network and the resulting cost to households and businesses. The consultation is aimed at also delivering confidence that consumers will not face a premium for their purchase of hydrogen-ready boilers.
Adveco remains a strong proponent for replacing natural gas with hydrogen blends and then finally a truly green 100% hydrogen supply at a national level. Considerable technical and capital investment will be required to transform existing infrastructure, which we do not see occurring in the short term. With full ministerial support and investment, hydrogen would form a considerable portion of the technical delivery of net zero during the 2040s in advance of the 2050 deadline. Instigation of early bans on gas-fired boilers is likely to be counterproductive unless purchase costs remain on par with current appliances as we firmly believe most units purchased through the mid-2020s will never see conversion to hydrogen use, especially domestically. Better to commit to 20% blend projects and clarify that the current generation of gas appliances whether domestic or commercial must show the capability to burn the blended gas. Most, such as Adveco’s AD and MD ranges, already can without requiring any form of burner adaptation. This also has the advantage of countering claims of triallists being used as ‘lab rats’ for hydrogen rollout. The announcement of ministerial consideration may start to redress the lack of investment in the technology, as we have noted hydrogen needs more government support, but once again the focus is being placed on voter-friendly domestic responses, rather than addressing the considerable issue of carbon emissions from commercial buildings where arguably organisations are better positioned to make a difference starting today.
Read more about our hydrogen future here