Decarbonising heat is a major challenge facing the UK, as we strive to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

Around one-fifth of the UK’s total emissions come from heating buildings, with homes making by far the largest contribution. The UK has the oldest and leakiest housing stock in Europe and around 85% of homes use natural gas for heating. Progress in reducing emissions from buildings has been slow.

Meeting net zero will require decarbonising the way we heat our buildings,  and a complete shift away from the use of natural gas. There are several important technology options including heat pumps and district heating, and the Climate Change Committee has concluded that there is “no silver bullet to decarbonising heating”. Hydrogen will need to make a big contribution to delivering low carbon and zero carbon heat in our homes, shops, offices and industries.

Hydrogen heating can be delivered in homes with minimal disruption to consumers. It is a like-for-like replacement for existing gas boilers and operates in the same way. We can even start installing ‘hydrogen ready’ boilers now, which will reduce the cost of conversion later on.

A further benefit of using hydrogen alongside heat pumps to decarbonise heat is that it will reduce strain on the electricity distribution network and result in a more resilient lower cost energy system.

Yet there is no single, easy way to make our buildings low carbon. A balance between electrification and hydrogen will most likely be needed, with hydrogen boilers, heat pumps and district heating, likely to be used in complementary ways, according to the needs of different areas.

Further evidence is needed on the feasibility and costs of converting from natural gas to hydrogen heating. The government is supporting industry to conduct first-of-a-kind hydrogen heating trials, including a neighbourhood trial by 2023 and a village scale trial by 2025. The local trials and planning work, together with the results of a research and development and testing programme, will enable government to take decisions by 2026 on the role of hydrogen for heat and whether to proceed with a hydrogen town.

Hydrogen UK members are participating in projects, supported by BEIS and Ofgem, that aim to examine further the feasibility of using hydrogen to take carbon out of domestic and commercial heat by decarbonising the gas grid.

Photo credit: Baxi Heating – Hydrogen-Ready Boiler’

Case Study: Hydrogen for heat in homes H100 Fife Neighbourhood Trial

SGN is developing a world-first hydrogen network in Levenmouth, Scotland, called H100 Fife. For the first time anywhere in the world, the project will supply households with 100% green hydrogen for heating.

As well as providing technical evidence, the project will validate customers’ interest in and acceptance of hydrogen applications and assess the performance of hydrogen as a replacement for natural gas in homes. Phase one of H100 Fife will connect 300 homes to a new 100% hydrogen network. A demonstration facility will be built for customers to see and experience hydrogen appliances in a home-like setting before opting into the project. The next phase will be to expand the number of customers receiving a hydrogen supply and start scaling up to create the UK’s first hydrogen town by the end of the decade.

The project will give people in Fife the opportunity to be at the forefront of research into hydrogen heating systems. The initial 300 customers joining the project will receive a free hydrogen connection, free replacement hydrogen appliances and free maintenance over the length of the project. They will pay the same amount for hydrogen gas as they would pay for natural gas.

Work is now underway to take the project forward and customers will be invited to the hydrogen demonstration facility next year, ahead of the hydrogen network going live later in 2022.