Controversial UK government aspirations to replace gas boilers in some homes with a hydrogen-based alternative are likely to be scrapped, Grant Shapps, the energy minister, has indicated.
Shapps said he believed hydrogen would form part of Britain’s overall energy mix but predicted it was “less likely” that the gas would be routinely piped into people’s homes, amid growing concerns about cost, safety and perpetuating a reliance on fossil fuels.
Trials have been under way as part of a government move to phase out natural gas boilers by 2035 amid a broader effort to decarbonise domestic heating, which accounts for about 17% of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions.
But the plans have in some cases been described as unsafe and have met with opposition in areas that have been earmarked for pilot schemes.
Shapps said: “There was a time when people thought … you will have something that just looks like a gas boiler and we will feed hydrogen into it.”
He added: “It’s not that we won’t do trials. We will. But I think hydrogen will be used for storing energy. You won’t have to switch off windfarms when you don’t need the power because you can turn it into hydrogen and use it later.”
Despite being more combustible and leakier than natural gas, energy firms have insisted that hydrogen can be made safe and have engaged in concerted lobbying of both the government and Labour to convince them of its merits.
But the assurances have failed to convince people asked to take part in large-scale trials of the technology.
Shapps said: “It is fundamentally unpopular in that area and I don’t believe in telling people we will be coming in to rip up out your boiler to replace it with this other thing that you don’t want, when they are other areas of the country that actually do want to go ahead with a trial.”
Hydrogen is derived either from splitting fossil fuel gas at extreme temperatures (known as blue hydrogen) or by splitting water using electricity from renewables, with minimal emissions – known as green hydrogen.
Critics argue that creating green hydrogen for home heating is six times less energy efficient than using heat pumps powered by electricity, and say that switching from gas boilers to heat pumps could save money as well as cut emissions.
Shapps also cited logistical concerns, such as the need to replace piping and the length of time it would take produce large volumes of low-emission green hydrogen.
Energy analysts have also warned that hydrogen could be up to 70% more expensive than gas for homeowners who make the switch.