The United Kingdom should focus on installing electric heat pumps and improving energy efficiency in homes rather than shifting to hydrogen-powered heating, says a recent report on decarbonizing the country’s natural gas networks.
Using hydrogen as an energy source in the gas grid will not be feasible until the 2030s, say analysts from the Imperial College London Energy Futures Lab. And delivering hydrogen safely into homes would require sections of the grid to be retrofitted, Energy Live News reports.
The study acknowledges that repurposing the UK grid to hydrogen would be a more familiar experience for consumers. However, some aspects of using hydrogen—which burns with an invisible flame, leaks at roughly three times the rate of natural gas, and has a lower ignition energy—complicate its use in domestic settings and raise safety concerns that would have to be addressed before a conversion program could be scaled up.
And compared to hydrogen technology that is not yet cost-competitive with fossil fuels, the analysts say heat pumps “are a well-established technology” that use electricity to transfer heat from external sources (air, ground, or water) to deliver home comfort and hot water.
A spokesperson for the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) responded that “electric heat pumps will have a key role to play, which is why we are incentivizing their deployment through measures such as the £450-million (C$774 million) Boiler Upgrade Scheme.”
So far, a limited rollout has left heat pumps at less than 1% of home heat capacity in the UK, the Futures Lab reports. But the government’s plan to increase annual heat pump installations to 600,000 by 2028 should be feasible, the research team concludes.
In an interview with Recharge News last summer, Bloomberg New Energy Finance founder Michael Liebreich described a prioritization ladder that listed about three dozen potential uses for hydrogen. Liebreich’s classification aligned with the findings of the Energy Futures lab, listing home heating as an uncompetitive use of the energy carrier.