Rule out hydrogen for heating homes, says infrastructure body

National Infrastructure Commission wants more support for heat pumps

The NIC calls for heat pumps to be installed in social housing for free

Hydrogen should be ‘ruled out’ for home heating and support for heat pump installations increased, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has urged. 

In its five-yearly National Infrastructure Assessment (NIA), published last month, the NIC concluded that there is ‘no public policy case’ for hydrogen to be used to heat individual buildings. Ruling it out as a home heating option would enable an ‘exclusive focus’ on switching to electrified heat. It said the government should: ‘Take a clear decision that electrification is the only viable option for decarbonising buildings at scale.’

The NIC said hydrogen heating will not be available in time to make a ‘material contribution’ to the Sixth Carbon Budget emissions-reduction target, which covers the mid-2030s. Converting the gas networks that serve properties to hydrogen will also require a time-consuming programme of area-by-area switching. 

The NIC identifies production capacity as another ‘critical barrier’ to the mass use of hydrogen ahead of the mid-2030s. The volume of ‘green’ hydrogen produced via electrolysis will be limited by competing demands for the electricity available. Hydrogen is also ‘not necessary’ for home heating, stated the NIC, because alternatives exist for ‘all buildings’. 

According to analysis it has carried out, a heating system with hydrogen will be 1.2 times more expensive than one without – and it takes five to six times more electricity to produce hydrogen than using it directly in heat pumps. 

To encourage greater uptake of heat pumps, at which the UK is lagging behind other European countries, the NIC called for them to be installed for free in social housing and other low-income households. The other two-thirds of UK households should be offered grants, worth £7,000 initially, to install heat pumps or connect to heat networks, plus access to government-backed 0% financing to cover additional costs. The government has recently increased heat pump grants to £7,500 through its Boiler Upgrade Scheme, but capped the budget. 

At the NIA’s launch, NIC commissioner Nick Winser said ‘Green electricity is going to be gold dust in the [energy] transition and we need to use it efficiently: heat pumps are best placed to do that.’