Brits mull over heat pumps or hydrogen for future of UK heating

Heat pumps: Kensa Contracting install heaters in Thurrock

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As the Government scrambles to phase out gas as part of its drive to net zero and its efforts to slash reliance on expensive fossil fuels, it is mulling over different options that would provide alternative ways to heat homes without the need for a traditional boiler – but so too are the residents that the technologies are being tested on. Under current plans, the Government will slap down a gas and oil boiler ban in newbuild homes from 2025. For other homes, new gas boilers will be illegal to install from 2035. As the targets approach, Westminster has two main options to choose from.

The first – heat pumps – a low-carbon alternative that pump warm air into your home and cost around £10,000 on average to install. Under the Government’s Boiler Upgrade Scheme the state provides £5,000 grants which cover half of the installation costs. But take-up may not have been as significant as Westminster might have wished for as it has an ambitious target of installing 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028.

If Whitby is chosen by the Government, Cadent, the gas distribution network that would be running the trial, will offer residents the choice of replacing their gas boiler either with one that runs on hydrogen or a heat pump.

Cadent would cover the cost of either boiler alternative, but residents would never be able to return to the gas system once the neighbourhood’s pipes have been repurposed for hydrogen. Since the start of the trial, over 900 Whitby residents have joined a Facebook group to share experts’ opinions on the future of home heating as the Government mulls over its decision.

Set up by Kate Grannell, the resident reportedly fears that Cadent might be leading her community up a dead end, towards a technology that heat pumps could make unnecessary, according to the Times.

But Cadent’s director of strategy Angela Needle believes that both technologies can be used in tandem, believing they are “complementary”, although she predicts that heat pumps will be the more prominent option, working best in new-builds and well-insulated homes.

She added that heat pumps will not work for everyone as they “they take up quite a bit of space”, meaning only more spacious homes will be able to accommodate them. She added that the staggering costs of the boiler alternatives may put people off.

On the other hand, boiler manufacturers claim hydrogen boilers will be no more expensive than the ones currently in use. Ms Needle also argues that heat pumps are usually more of an inconvenience than swapping out your natural gas system for a hydrogen boiler, because “you might have to get new radiators”.

This week, the Government unveiled a new £102million in funding for the development of hydrogen and nuclear technologies. As part of the programme, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will be consulting on a proposal for all new domestic-scale gas boilers sold from 2026 to be capable of being powered by hydrogen.

Those who believe green hydrogen is a batter choice than heat pumps have argued that the energy source argue is a “super fuel”, which, once piped into UK’s gas network and sent into boilers, would ensure that households would not have to pay extra for alternative heating source like heat pumps.

Mike Foster, the head of the Energy and Utilities Alliance, which has long been lobbying against heat pumps and calling for the rollout of hydrogen, said: “Mandating hydrogen-ready boilers is an important step towards decarbonising homes. The Government are absolutely right to support this no-regrets option.

“Boiler manufacturers have already made their ‘price promise’ so that a new hydrogen-ready boiler will cost the same as a natural gas appliance. So this means 1.7 million homes a year will be ready for net zero at no extra cost to the consumer.

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“There are currently around 23 million homes using gas boilers in the UK, simply allowing the natural replacement cycle to take place means that by 2040 every home would be ready to see natural gas replaced with hydrogen.”

“At scale, this system-led decarbonisation of homes delivers exactly what the government needs – hitting net zero at the lowest cost and least disruption to the consumer. This policy means that British workers will still make boilers for British homes, rather than importing other appliances. It is at the very heart of a ‘just transition’ to a net zero world. They will then use hydrogen produced right here, ceasing our reliance on the global gas market that Putin has wreaked havoc with.”

But other experts have warned that using hydrogen to heat homes may not be the most cost-effective option. For instance, a report by UK-based analyst Cambridge Econometrics has warned that “hydrogen boilers lead to higher energy bills as they are much less energy efficient than heat pumps, requiring up to six times more renewable electricity.”

The authors added that “hydrogen boilers would have a negative impact on people’s health because they release NOx emissions, significantly contributing to air pollution”. Instead, they argue that “heat pumps are a highly efficient heating technology, which reduces the energy bills of households and improves Europe’s energy independence.”

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