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UK proposes ‘hydrogen ready’ boilers in homes from 2026

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The UK government has proposed banning the installation of traditional gas boilers in homes from 2026 and replacing them with “hydrogen ready” heating systems.

Under the consultation, published on Tuesday, new boilers installed after that date would continue to use natural gas but would have to be able to switch to hydrogen, which emits only water rather than carbon dioxide when burnt, at a later date.

Replacing gas-fired boilers is a key part of the UK’s target to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 with the housing stock accounting for around a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions.

However, the proposals are likely to reignite a bitter row over the future of home heating. Some academics, climate groups and electricity companies argue that hydrogen is expensive and question its suitability for domestic properties. They insist low carbon alternatives to gas boilers already exist in the form of electric heat pumps.

Operators of the UK’s gas grids and boiler manufacturers argue converting to hydrogen would be less disruptive than replacing existing infrastructure with other green technology in what has become a highly polarised debate.

The government described the requirement to make all new boilers “hydrogen ready” from 2026 as a “low-regrets” action for consumers as long as such models reached price parity with existing natural gas-only equipment “by the time that they are required as standard”.

Former prime minister Boris Johnson was particularly supportive of pursuing hydrogen technology as a way of decarbonising some of the most polluting sectors of the economy before he was forced to resign earlier this year.

His government published a hydrogen strategy in 2021, which set out plans to start trials of hydrogen heating at a neighbourhood level next year and test it in a large village in 2025 before making a decision on whether to convert the gas grid in 2026.

However, residents in some of the locations envisaged for the village trial, including the community of Whitby, near Ellesmere Port in north-west England, have expressed concerns about being human experiments for the technology.

Low carbon hydrogen can be made via the electrolysis of water using renewable power — known as “green” hydrogen — or from a chemical process that converts natural gas and captures and stores the carbon dioxide byproduct — known as “blue” hydrogen.

A number of governments, including in the EU, are pursuing green hydrogen, with particular focus on cutting emissions from heavy industry, although there is a debate whether the gas can be produced at scale allowing it to replace natural gas completely.

Victoria Billings, director of marketing at the boiler manufacturer Worcester Bosch, on Tuesday welcomed the government consultation, which runs until March 21. “For us, it’s about being able to offer the choice to homeowners on the technology they have installed to heat their homes and ultimately helping them to reduce their home’s carbon emissions.”

But climate groups argue hydrogen is being pushed by gas infrastructure companies that would otherwise end up with stranded assets. Alice Harrison, fossil fuels campaign leader at the non-profit Global Witness, said hydrogen heating was “like making dog food with caviar, in that it’s impossibly expensive and in limited supply”.

She added: “We should focus on cleaner and more affordable solutions like heat pumps, instead of trying to keep happy the gas companies, masked as hydrogen suppliers.”

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