England's village green hydrogen dream in tatters

Another Johnson era fantasy fails to survive its encounter with science, engineering and economics

A second planned trial to provide hydrogen for home heating was this week officially cancelled in England, a government minister has confirmed.

Claire Coutinho, secretary of state for energy security and net zero, said the pilot in Redcar, in the north east of England, "cannot go ahead as designed, as the main source of hydrogen supply will not be available."

Another pilot scheme to provide hydrogen for home heating in Ellesmere Port, northwest England, was cancelled earlier this year, although a scheme in Fife, Scotland continues.

Coutinho said: "The government is not in a position to provide support for the trial. The government still plans to take a decision in 2026 on whether, and if so how, hydrogen will contribute to heating decarbonization. We will assess evidence from the neighborhood trial in Fife, as well as similar schemes across Europe, to take this decision.”

In 2021, the UK government launched a Hydrogen Strategy to help achieve its ambition to decarbonize the economy. It set out a Ten Point Plan which proposed supporting hydrogen heating trials, "including a neighborhood trial by 2023 and a village scale trial by 2025."

"The village trial will look to build on learning from the neighborhood trial, involving a larger and more diverse range of consumers, and conversion of existing local area gas infrastructure to 100 percent hydrogen," it said.

Hydrogen for home heating was a go-to green gimmick for former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Launching the plans, he even fantasized [PDF] that the British would one day be cooking their breakfasts using the gas.

Johnson resigned as prime minister in July 2022 after a series of scandals.

As well as announcing the end of the hydrogen heating trial, Coutinho promised 11 electrolytic — or green — hydrogen projects and policy updates across hydrogen production, transport, storage and use. "Together, these announcements set out the steps that the government is taking to deliver a world leading hydrogen economy and support high-quality jobs and investment across the UK."

She said £413 million ($526 million) of private capital would be invested by the projects upfront between 2024 and 2026.

In July, plans for the UK's first hydrogen-powered community were scrapped after residents objected. The Ellesmere Port to be included as the site for the Hydrogen Village pilot left some locals saying they felt like "lab rats."

The British government had planned for all new boilers installed from 2026 to be "hydrogen-ready." However, it has now backed plans to ban gas and "hydrogen-ready" boilers from newly built homes in England from 2025.

In October, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) said there was no public policy case for hydrogen to replace natural gas for home heating.

"The Commission's analysis demonstrates that there is no public policy case for hydrogen to be used to heat individual buildings. It should be ruled out as an option to enable an exclusive focus on switching to electrified heat," the commission said.

Gas boilers currently heat around 88 percent of English buildings. They will need to be replaced by heat pumps while around eight million additional buildings must switch to low carbon heating by 2035, and all buildings by 2050.

"Heat pumps and heat networks are the solution. They are highly efficient, available now and being deployed rapidly in other countries," the commission said.

Commons Science and Technology Committee had similarly found that hydrogen was a poor option for home heating. After hearing evidence from industry experts, it concluded hydrogen would have a "specific but limited" role in decarbonizing sectors where electrification is not possible and as a means of storing energy. ®

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