Uncertainty about home heating is unnecessary – let’s stop the ‘hydrogen hype’

A new report from the National Audit Office (NAO), Decarbonising Home Heating, states that continued uncertainty surrounding domestic hydrogen is hindering heat pump roll-out and increasing costs for businesses and consumers. Griff Thomas, MD for GTEC and Director of heatly, gives his views.

 The debate surrounding hydrogen as a primary source of home heating has reached a critical juncture. Last year, DESNZ scrapped both of its hydrogen trials – in Redcar, Yorkshire and Whitby, Cheshire – because there was simply not enough ‘green’ hydrogen to supply the projects. Despite government insistence that an evidence base is required before a decision is taken, no more trials are underway in England and recent analyses suggest that hydrogen’s feasibility and viability are questionable at best. Yet an official decision is not expected until 2026.

Continued discourse surrounding hydrogen for homes plants a seed of doubt that – with the help of gas company lobbyists – erodes confidence in heat pumps and contributes to the spread of misinformation. Studies consistently highlight the technical challenges and high costs associated with this approach. More than 95% of global hydrogen production is fossil-fuel based and less than 0.04% is ‘green’.

Meanwhile, the heat pump sector suffers and so does the public purse.

Apart from ‘hydrogen hype’ there are many reasons why the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) numbers are not as high as predicted – low public awareness, high upfront costs and a general lack of strategy when it comes to training and supporting installers to name but a few.

Just last week, the government tried to breakdown so-called barriers to entry to the BUS by removing the requirement for insulation, but this is not the right approach. Framed as cutting costs for the homeowner, in reality the government is basically chipping away at what makes an efficient heat pump system in an attempt to meet their targets, while covering up that the Great British Insulation Scheme simply isn’t working for the same reasons – a lack of Retrofit Assessors in particular is holding up this process and the scheme has hardly been promoted to the consumer.

Overall, heat pumps and heat networks offer a quicker, more efficient and more secure pathway to net zero. To achieve this, the NAO report states that DESNZ must address long-term challenges, including the future of gas networks and harder-to-decarbonize homes, such as high-rise and terraces. Innovations such as Kensa’s Shoebox NX heat pump offer a viable solution for up to 60% of homes, mimicking the gas network with a ground source heat pump powered heat network that delivers 5 times the efficiency of a gas boiler.

Innovations in delivery include Aira’s new ‘Comfort Guarantee’, which provides affordable ASHPs – no upfront cost and a low monthly payment which not only covers the heat pumps, but ensures its operation for 15 years, including servicing and repairs.

The heatly app, which is due to be launched soon and is funded by DESNZ’s Heat Pump Ready Programme, will deliver key support to installers as they navigate the heat pump sector, providing advanced tools for design and installation.

The development of ‘green’ hydrogen will play a critical role in decarbonisation, but not in the residential heating sector. It’s imperative that policymakers clarify this stance immediately, allowing efforts to refocus on heat pumps and heat networks.

I urge the government to provide certainty on the role of hydrogen before 2026 and accelerate efforts to rebalance energy costs to improve heat pump uptake, in accordance with NAO recommendations. Ultimately, decisive action is needed to steer the trajectory of home heating clearly towards sustainable and effective solutions.

Find out the latest on decarbonising heating at InstallerSHOW 2024 – running 25-27 June at the NEC.