Understanding the Hydrogen Discussion

2023 has seen the UK move up to third place in the Hydrogen Index, with only Germany and South Korea ahead.  Produced by independent energy research, analytics and consulting firm Cornwall Insight, the Hydrogen Index ranks the 14 countries with the most potential to develop advanced low-carbon hydrogen economies.

The move up the Index by two places is attributable to the progression of the UK’s low carbon hydrogen strategy over the past 12 months, which includes plans to double our capacity targets to 10GW by 2030. The release of the Hydrogen Investor Roadmap in April 2022 and the Hydrogen Strategy Update in December (which follows on from the 2021 UK Hydrogen Strategy) has also significantly contributed in defining the path to a hydrogen fuelled future.

Hydrogen boiler types and availability

Broadly speaking, there are three types of hydrogen boilers: hydrogen blend compatible, hydrogen-ready and 100% hydrogen. 

Only hydrogen blend compatible boilers are currently available.  These can run on a blend of 20% hydrogen and 80% natural gas without the need to change any parts.  Work is in progress to prove the safety cases and satisfy the HSE that the gas grid and all the appliances connected to it would be suitable to operate with a blended gas supply of 80% natural gas / 20% hydrogen. On conclusion of this work there would be no change to most gas appliances connected to the grid and, to the best of our knowledge, all the natural gas boilers currently on the market from Ideal Heating are suitable for this situation. A decision would then be made at Government level if and when blending of the gas supply was to occur, assuming that sufficient volumes of hydrogen were available. Boiler products with non- adjustable gas / air ratio (such as our Evomax 2) will automatically operate safely if switched to a 20% blend. Products with an adjustable gas valve (typically floor standing premix boilers) are also capable of operating on a blend, but these would require re-commissioning (gas valve adjustment) to ensure safe operation, due to the changing calorific value of the incoming blended gas.

Hydrogen-ready boilers are those that that can be installed and run on natural gas and can then be converted by the installation of a small kit of parts at a later date to run on 100% hydrogen.  The decision on whether there should be a legislative requirement that any new installation should be hydrogen-ready is not scheduled to be made by Government until 2026.  We would then expect a further period of around three years to allow manufacturers to complete the necessary development and test work to create the conversion kits before the possibility that installation of hydrogen-ready boilers becomes mandatory for non-domestic boilers. In addition to the safety case there would also need to be sufficient volumes of hydrogen available to convert all or parts of the grid to 100% hydrogen supply.

As the name implies, 100% hydrogen boilers will run on 100% hydrogen with no conversion required, meeting the government’s ambition to phase out fossil fuels by 2035.  Currently there is no standard by which a manufacturer could type approve and place on sale in the UK market a boiler that was only intended to be fired on 100% hydrogen.  Any 100% hydrogen boilers are, at this stage development prototypes being used for field trials and evaluations to allow the various parties to gather evidence for the potential introduction of 100% hydrogen. 

Moving Forward with Hydrogen

Over the next few years, the prevalence of low carbon heating technologies will rise significantly, bringing big changes in how the UK’s buildings are heated. Hydrogen has the potential to play a part in the decarbonisation of heating in the UK, but no final decision on the role of 100% hydrogen in buildings will be made until 2026.

Before that date, research and trials are underway to determine if it is technically possible, safe and convenient to use zero-carbon hydrogen gas in residential and commercial buildings and gas appliances. The first major trial is the H100 Fife demonstration project, which starts in 2024, and will see up to 300 local homes switch to hydrogen to heat their homes and cook their food. This will enable the UK Government to determine whether to proceed to a village trial phase in 2025. 

In the meantime, the immediate focus is on growing the infrastructure and capability to generate, store and distribute hydrogen, whilst in parallel creating and increasing the demand for hydrogen itself. Two key initiatives support those researching, producing, and using hydrogen are the £240m Net Zero Hydrogen Fund which provides co-investment for new production capacity; and the Hydrogen Business Model, which encourages producers with revenue support levelling up cost of hydrogen against existing fuels in the short term.

The Pathway to Net zero

Government strategy and policy around the decarbonisation of heating on the pathway to net zero are evolving and changing over time, but hydrogen is one of the key energy sources forming part of this conversation.  

Understanding the benefits of green hydrogen as a fuel source, along with a realistic awareness of the timeframes for hydrogen powered heating, helps us to focus on the present day and what we need to achieve now to meet our Net Zero future.

For further information on Hydrogen as a potential fuel source in commercial heating, please visit https://idealcommercialboilers...