UK trial of hydrogen heated homes to begin

Plumbing at Dunster Castle, Somerset

A government programme is funding two new hydrogen heated homes in Low Thornley, Gateshead. The houses will be built by April 2021, and will be entirely heated by hydrogen to demonstrate how it might replace natural gas to power our homes.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has announced a budget of £500 million to assist the progress of hydrogen heating, to include the trial of new homes using the gas for cooking and heating. A further £240 million will be used to provide new hydrogen production facilities.

A grant from this budget of £250,000  will be used to fund the project through the Hy4Heat competition. The project is being coordinated by the Northern Gas Network and gas company Cadent.

A strategy on how future uses of hydrogen can be encompassed is expected to be announced by ministers soon.

Hydrogen heated homes

Rather than using natural gas in the two homes, which is a fossil fuel, the boilers, cookers, hobs, fires and a barbecue will work on hydrogen. Hydrogen does not emit carbon and its main by-product is water. It is hoped hydrogen heated homes will play a key role in reducing the UK’s carbon emissions.

The appliances used in the project will be rotated to give different manufacturers the opportunity for feedback from users, including the public who will be able to visit the Gateshead site to see how appliances run on hydrogen work compared to those run on natural gas. Schools, universities and colleges will also be invited to learn about energy efficiency and how green energy requirements can be met in the future.

In November 2020, as part of a ten-point Green Industrial Revolution, the government announced a target date of 2023 for the development of the first hydrogen powered neighbourhood. By 2025, it hopes to power a whole village with hydrogen and a whole town by 2030. A target of net zero emissions has been set by 2050.

In January 2021, the Energy Network Association presented its blueprint for the first hydrogen powered town in the UK.

Can hydrogen replace natural gas?

The home heating industry has welcomed the government’s pledge and say it could represent a ‘turning point’ in how our homes are heated.

Prototype new boilers capable of running on both natural gas and hydrogen have been produced by two companies, Baxi Heating and Worcester Bosch. These boilers have already been installed in two homes at a test site in Northumberland in specially built demonstration houses. Tests to prove hydrogen’s safety and efficacy are now being carried out to ensure our homes can be converted to the technology and that 100% hydrogen can be supplied through existing gas networks.

So if, in the future, a hydrogen gas network becomes available homes fitted with the new boilers will be ready to convert to hydrogen without the need for a whole new heating system.

Are other trials happening?

In 2020, the heating system at Keele University was mixed with 20% hydrogen. The system supplies heat to a hundred domestic properties and thirty buildings.

A separate trial of 670 homes in Gateshead will go ahead this year for a period of around ten months. The homes will be supplied with a blend of hydrogen and natural gas.

And in Scotland, plans have been submitted for a domestic hydrogen heating grid that the gas network operator hopes to be in place by the end of 2022.

What’s wrong with natural gas?

Around 85% of UK homes are currently heated with natural gas, which produces over 30% of the UK’s carbon emissions. A successful conversion to hydrogen gas would therefore enormously contribute to the UK’s climate change targets provided that trials show reduced emissions from hydrogen powered homes.

Is hydrogen heating cheaper?

Hydrogen is made from water, so you might thing so. However, hydrogen is produced using energy to change the water into hydrogen and oxygen, which produces ‘green hydrogen’ or ‘blue hydrogen’.

Green hydrogen is produced using renewable energy but blue hydrogen uses carbon capture technology to prevent emissions being released when fossil fuel is used to split water.

There are still uncertainties over how hydrogen can be produced in sufficient quantities to be viable, or how much its efficient production will cost. Because of this, some believe that investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency should be prioritised over hydrogen. However, the requirement for retrofitting buildings with renewable heating systems could be avoided if hydrogen heating was installed.