Plans to require that all new boilers are able to run on hydrogen within a few years are unrealistic, according to a powerful committee of MPs who have warned that hydrogen is “not a panacea” for cutting carbon emissions.
MPs on the Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee say the clean-burning gas is likely to play a limited role in the future energy system, given the practical challenges of producing and handling the gas cleanly at large scale.
They argue huge questions still need to be answered about the potential deployment of the gas, and highlight “conflicting views” on the role it could play in domestic heating, given the merits of electric heat pumps instead.
Hydrogen is currently a niche product used in chemical production and oil refining, but politicians around the world hope it can replace fossil fuels in uses ranging from heating to transportation, as it does not produce emissions when burned.
However, the committee argued that in practice this was likely to be limited to uses where other options are unsuitable, or in areas which are close to hydrogen production hubs.
“It seems likely that any future use of hydrogen will be limited rather than universal,” they said. This limited – rather than universal – use of hydrogen should inform Government decisions.
“For example, we disagree with the Climate Change Committee’s recommendation that the Government should mandate new domestic boilers to be hydrogen-ready from 2025.”
Its report comes as on December 12, the Government set out proposals to require all boilers installed after 2026 to be hydrogen-ready. The Committee said it was “unconvinced” that hydrogen will be able to play a widespread role in heating homes by 2026.
Currently, most domestic boilers run on natural gas, but this will need to change as it is a major source of carbon emissions.
Tests are currently under way around the country to determine the viability of hydrogen, heat pumps and heat networks for home heating, while more than 40,000 heat pumps were installed in the UK in 2021.
The government has said it will decide in 2026 how large a role it expects hydrogen to play in heating. However, the Committee said it was not convinced that hydrogen deployment would yet be economically viable at scale by then.
Greg Clark MP, chair of the committee, said: “Hydrogen can play an important role in decarbonising the UK’s economy, but it is not a panacea.
“There are significant infrastructure challenges associated with converting our energy networks to use hydrogen and uncertainty about when low-carbon hydrogen can be produced at scale at an economical cost.
“But there are important applications for hydrogen in particular industries, so it can be, in the words of one who witnesses our inquiry, “a big niche.”
A government spokesman said: “A low carbon hydrogen sector here in the UK will be critical to delivering energy security, economic growth, and our net zero ambitions.
“We expect to have up to two gigawatts of low-carbon hydrogen projects in construction or operation by 2025.
“Hydrogen could play an important role in helping decarbonising heat in buildings, but the Government has been clear that a decision on this will not be made until 2026, allowing for full consideration of relevant evidence.”