Energy Minister's Controversial Stance: Hydrogen will have a 'very small role' in heating UK homes
In an exclusive interview, Energy Minister Lord Callanan delivered a decisive verdict on hydrogen's role in heating UK homes. He emphasized that hydrogen would likely have only "a very small role, if at all", in the domestic heating landscape. Instead, Lord Callanan championed the ascent of heat pumps and heat networks as the frontrunners in transitioning away from fossil gas boilers.
This revelation comes amid ongoing efforts to establish a hydrogen home heating trial in Redcar, North East England. Despite this endeavour, the government remains cautious about hydrogen's feasibility for widespread use in decarbonizing the UK's fossil gas network.
In an exclusive interview, Lord Callanan, Minister of State for Energy Efficiency and Green Finance, said that while the government was still hopeful of establishing a hydrogen home heating trial in Redcar in North East England, it did not expect the low carbon fuel source to play a significant role in decarbonizing the UK's fossil gas network.
The Conservative peer warned that hydrogen remains "problematic for home heating."
"Firstly, you've got to work out where you get hydrogen from in the first place and whether that's an efficient use of green electricity when you could just put it through a heat pump instead," Lord Callanan said. "So there's the overall system efficiencies we need to look at. If hydrogen plays any role, it will only be in a very small proportion of properties."
This stance by the Energy Minister might disappoint advocates of hydrogen boilers, who had hoped to upgrade the gas distribution network to accommodate millions of such boilers. They argue that this approach could offer a less disruptive path to decarbonization than transitioning to heat pumps or heat networks.
However, critics counter that hydrogen presents greater technical and financial challenges than electric heating systems, which are already feasible for most UK homes. They argue that electric-powered heat pumps and heat networks are well-suited for most properties, even before considering the cost efficiencies of scale.
The National Infrastructure Commission recently concluded that there is "no public policy case" for hydrogen in home heating. This position aligns with the recommendation from the Climate Change Committee to make a final decision regarding hydrogen as a heating solution as soon as possible.
The government, however, intends to announce its decision on supporting hydrogen as a home heating solution by 2026, possibly sooner. Simultaneously, it continues efforts to initiate a hydrogen home heating trial in Redcar.
Lord Callanan's comments coincided with an investigation into boiler manufacturer Worcester Bosch and their claims of producing 'hydrogen blend ready' boilers. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has cautioned against marketing fossil gas boilers as 'hydrogen-ready,' citing potential consumer confusion.
Lord Callanan also said that marketing boilers as 'hydrogen-ready' could amount to "miss-selling," given it remains unclear whether such appliances will ever be able to access 100 per cent hydrogen fuel.
"Clearly, there's been some miss-selling around these areas, although that's for the CMA to determine," he said. "It's possible to blend up to 20 per cent of hydrogen into the existing gas network, which will work with existing gas appliances. So, I guess the argument of the companies is that their boilers will fulfil that requirement. Although it is slightly misleading, as they will clearly not work on 100 percent hydrogen. But, as I said, these are matters for the CMA to determine."
The government has also set a target for 600,000 heat pump installations in the UK per year from 2028 - a goal which Lord Callanan said Ministers remained fully committed to delivering despite industry concerns that more support and a broader skills base will be required.
"That's our target, and that's what we'll be working towards," he said.
The government also promised in its last manifesto to spend £9.2bn on energy efficiency efforts over the course of the current Parliament, but it has faced criticism for spending or allocating only £6.5bn of the funding to date.
Lord Callanan highlighted how the government mobilised investment through several government initiatives and funding pots, such as the boiler upgrade scheme, the social housing decarbonization fund, and the forthcoming Future Homes Standard.
But he could not confirm whether the Conservatives still planned to deliver the full £9.2bn of energy efficiency funding throughout the current Parliament, acknowledging that to date, £6.5bn has been spent on energy efficiency schemes.
"We already have £6bn allocated from 2025-2028, and we want to look at the most efficient way of spending that money across the different schemes," he said
"We'll have to wait and see what the Chancellor [Jeremy Hunt] announces [in the Autumn Statement], but I'm always optimistic for more spending in these areas."