You may have heard a lot of talk in the news lately about gas boiler bans, hydrogen boilers, insanely expensive heat pumps, and rising fuel costs. If you’re a homeowner with an old boiler, you’re probably getting a lot of conflicting advice on what you should do.
In this blog, we’ll go through the options available, letting you know when they are available (hydrogen), when they won’t be available (gas boilers) and whether they’re worth getting even if they are available (heat pumps).
Why do we need hydrogen boilers?
The U.K has pledged to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050 and become a carbon-neutral nation. With one-third of the U.K’s CO2 emissions coming from heating our homes, it’s clear that to achieve the carbon-neutral target, change is coming to the heating industry.
So why hydrogen, a completely new domestic fuel source? The answer is that when you burn hydrogen, the only by-product is water. However, in some cases, nitrous oxide can be partially released in some hydrogen combustions. No carbon dioxide is produced, which makes it a good option when the target is zero carbon emissions.
Hydrogen can become a renewable energy source with renewable energy production. So unlike fossil fuels like gas and oil, hydrogen won’t run out. This also means that the price is likely to remain more stable as it won’t fluctuate with supply and demand as finite resources do.
Another advantage of hydrogen is that it can utilise the current gas grid, meaning taxpayers wouldn’t have to cover the expense and endure the disruption of the creation of an entirely new fuel supply network. The gas network currently supplies 85% of U.K homes, so it would make sense to utlise it to deliver hydrogen.
With over 20 million boilers in the U.K, replacing them with anything other than hydrogen would cause massive disruption and cost.
The UK government is currently in the process of replacing mains gas pipes with polythene, a material that would be perfect for transporting hydrogen gas – in a project due to be completed in 2032.
U.K Average Household CO2 emissions in KG based on Catapult Systems analysis, courtesy of Energy Saving Trust
Can I buy a hydrogen boiler?
As of late 2021, you cannot buy a hydrogen boiler. As there is no hydrogen fuel supply currently going through the gas grid there wouldn’t be any point in owning a hydrogen boiler.
Worcester Bosch, Ideal, Baxi, Vaillant, and Viessmann have all created ‘hydrogen-ready’ boilers. A hydrogen-ready boiler is a system that can operate on natural gas and then be converted by a qualified engineer to operate safely and efficiently on hydrogen within an hour. Worcester Bosch has called for all boilers installed after 2025 to be hydrogen ready, so when/if the time comes to switch to hydrogen – the U.K will be ready.
Hydrogen-ready boilers are slightly different from ‘hydrogen blend ready’ boilers. Hydrogen blend-ready boilers are able to run on a blend of 20% hydrogen and 80% natural gas blends of fuel.
Ideal, Baxi, Worcester Bosch, and Vaillant have already built hydrogen boilers which are currently being tested in real-life simulations. These hydrogen boilers will be sold as ‘hydrogen ready’ boilers when they pass the testing phase.
There is no set date when you can buy a hydrogen-ready boiler but they could be available from 2026, however, there are still hurdles for hydrogen boilers to face before they are ready for widespread adoption.
How much will hydrogen boilers cost?
Initially, it was thought that hydrogen boilers would be £100 – £200 more than their gas boiler counterparts, but four industry-leading manufacturers (Ideal, Baxi, Worcester Bosch, and Vaillant) have agreed to keep the hydrogen boiler prices the same as gas boilers.
Gas boiler installation costs vary from company to company but you can expect to pay between £1500 – £2500 (with installation) depending on the boiler type you need and the brand you choose.
Mike Foster, chief executive of the boiler industry trade body, the Energy and Utilities Alliance (EUA), said “Our own research tells us that consumers want to do their bit to reduce the impact of their homes and help deliver a greener future, but are concerned about the cost of some low carbon technologies. This price-promise from the ‘big four’ ensures that consumers will be able to access an affordable low carbon heat and hot water solution.”
Given the volatility in energy prices and the uncertainty surrounding the future of the heating industry, it’s encouraging that an environmentally friendly option is being developed and furthermore, that it is being backed by the largest boiler manufacturers in the U.K.
Installing a hydrogen boiler is one part of the cost, however, the cost of hydrogen fuel is an unknown element as it isn’t produced in large enough quantities currently.
Hydrogen is a very efficient fuel source. 1kg of hydrogen contains the same amount of energy as 2.8kg of petrol. So, if the means of production can be figured out and economy of scale obtained, then hydrogen could end up being a reasonably priced fuel source. Especially when compared to gas prices which continue to rise.
Hydrogen boiler pros and cons
Zero carbon emissions
Using hydrogen as a source of fuel is currently in the testing phase – widespread adoption of hydrogen won’t be possible until 2035 at the earliest
Hydrogen can utilise the current gas grid from 2023
Hydrogen is not cheap to produce
Hydrogen is a efficient fuel source compared with a combustion engine
Hydrogen is a highly flammable and volatile substance
Unlike natural gas, hydrogen is relatively non-toxic
Hydrogen isn’t easy to store
There are hydrogen-ready boilers on the market, which can be converted within an hour to fully operate on hydrogen
There is no hydrogen fuel supply currently going through the gas grid
Unlink the expensive heat pumps, hydrogen boilers will be the same price as gas boilers
Depending on the method of production, blue hydrogen can still produce carbon dioxide as a by-product
Hydrogen development timeline
The government is aiming for around 20-35% of UK energy consumption to be hydrogen by 2050. Millions of homes across the U.K could be using hydrogen as a fuel source to heat their homes in the future.
With the publication of the UK Hydrogen Strategy in August 2021, the timeline for the development of hydrogen as a fuel source for the U.K is starting to solidify. The strategy sets out the plan to develop a low carbon hydrogen sector in the UK to meet a target of 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030.
In 2008, the U.K government committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% compared to 1990 levels by 2050. By 2035, a target of 78% reduction in carbon emissions (based on 1990 levels) was set.
July 2019 – Opening of H21 Test Facility
4th July 2019 saw the opening of a unique hydrogen testing facility at the HSE Science and Research Centre in Buxton. H21, the world’s largest project to reduce carbon emissions, is the first testing facility for 100 percent hydrogen.
November 2020 – Government release 10 Point Plan
The government’s 10 Point Plan laid out the move to boost hydrogen production with plans for a hydrogen village, town, and eventually, city to aid the wholescale transition to hydrogen across the UK.
December 2020 – Government release Energy White Paper
Issued by BEIS, the Energy White paper set out specific steps for the government to take over the next decade to cut carbon emissions and support 220,000 jobs in the industry.
August 2021 – Hydrogen Strategy Paper
The Hydrogen Strategy Paper reveals the government’s intentions for hydrogen and how extensive its use will be in achieving net-zero by 2050.
August 2021 – HyDeploy North East (Winlaton, nr. Gateshead)
Following a successful trial where a 20% hydrogen blend was introduced into the natural gas supply at Keele University, a hydrogen blend is being tested in Winlaton, which comprises 668 homes, a church, a primary school, and several small businesses.
October 2021 – Government release Heat and Buildings Strategy
The Heat and Buildings Strategy pledges £3.9bn in new funding to decarbonise heat and buildings including a £5k subsidy towards heat pump installation as part of the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (thought to be a new name for the Clean Heat Grant, which in turn replaced the renewable heat incentive).
November 2021 – COP 26
The annual U.N Climate Change Conference is due to take place in November in Glasgow, where world leaders will meet to discuss how to combat the climate crisis.
2023-2027 – H100 Trial in Fife Begins
The H100 project in Buckhaven, Fife will start with 300 homes, supplied with 100% hydrogen fuel for cooking and heating. This will be increased to 1,000 homes as the project continues.
2025 – Gas boilers banned from new build properties
Gas boilers will no longer be installed in new builds from 2025. Gas boilers can still be installed in U.K homes until 2035.
2025 – H2 Village Trial to begin
The H2 trial will involve a statistically representative customer base of up to 2,000 occupied homes, offices, and other buildings, all using 100% hydrogen for a period of at least 12 months People living and working in the chosen properties can use hydrogen for their heating, hot water, and cooking.
2030 – Hydrogen wider adoption to 3m U.K homes
5GW of hydrogen production targeted for 2035 and the creation of 9,000 jobs in the hydrogen industry. Hydrogen will be delivered to the entire town as the fuel source to continue testing at scale.
2050 – Hydrogen supplies 25 – 35% of U.K energy usage
By 2050 it is estimated that hydrogen will supply between 25-35% of the U.K’s energy. The percentage will increase as the production of hydrogen is scaled up.
Should I get a heat pump installed?
One thing to keep in mind with heat pumps is that they are not a new technology. In fact, the first heat pump system was designed in 1855, with the first ground source heat pump following in the late 1940s.
So why hasn’t this technology been widely adopted already, and why are we only hearing about heat pumps now?
There are a lot of reasons why heat pumps haven’t been widely adopted already, despite being an environmentally friendlier option than natural gas.
The main reason is cost. Despite the Heat & Building’s Strategy allocating funds to subsidise heat pumps (up to £5k per installation), the cost is still much higher than that of a gas boiler. The average price of a heat pump installation is between 8.5k – 12k, and over 18k for a ground source heat pump.
The average price of a gas boiler is between 1.5k – 3k. Even taking into consideration the government subsidy on heat pumps, they are still not affordable for the vast majority of the U.K.
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has estimated that it would cost an average of £26,000 to switch each UK home to a low-carbon heating system.
Difficult to Install
Unlike gas boilers, you cannot get an online quote on a heat pump. They are very difficult to install and research must be undertaken in order to understand the movement of heat, local geology, as well as the heating and cooling requirements for your household.
The installation process is a lot more disruptive than a gas boiler, both to your home and garden. A domestic air source heat pump should take around three to five days for a team of two to complete the plumbing works. An electrician will then spend approximately three days completing the electrical wiring and setting the system to work.
The complete installation process takes up to two weeks to complete. A ground source heat pump takes between 2-4 weeks and requires boreholes to be drilled. If you are replacing a combi boiler with another combi boiler then it will usually take one day.
Special planning permissions are required in Wales and Northern Ireland, whilst in England and Scotland, it depends on the location and size of your property.
Due to heat pumps not being a very popular option there aren’t many installers in the U.K. With the government subsidy and the confusion around gas boilers being banned (not for another 14 years), enquiries for heat pumps will be high.
The fact is, there aren’t enough engineers trained to install heat pumps in the U.K. The government subsidy on heat pumps will create a bottleneck of enquiries, with customers unable to get quotes for months, and for installations, they will have to wait even longer.
The CIPHE Low Temperature Heating Course in addition to the Heat Pump Associations (HPA) LCL Heat Pump Training course may alleviate the skill shortage in the long term, but short term, there aren’t enough installers.
Heat pumps can work well in specific situations. If a housing estate is built with a heat pump in mind as the heating source, and the insulation for the housing is designed to accommodate a heat pump then the heat they can provide is suitable, even during colder weather.
For older homes that haven’t been built to specifications suiting heat pumps, the cost of retrofitting for a heat pump is prohibitively expensive. Often underfloor heating is required, which depending on the home, isn’t always possible. Other options include increasing the size of the radiators in your home to larger surface areas to increase heat output.
The UK has a hugely diverse range of housing stock and research has shown that heat pumps aren’t feasible for around 40% of properties, that’s without taking affordability into consideration.
Whilst heat pumps can supply enough warmth during more temperate months, during the coldest months of the year, heat pumps can struggle to heat your home adequately. This has seen many heat pump owners left with exorbitant electricity bills during the coldest months of the year.
We’ve spoken to customers that have had a heat pump installed, and had to add a boiler to supplement heat in colder weather.
Not Carbon Neutral
Heat pumps run on electricity, which means they can never be carbon neutral in the way hydrogen has the potential to be.
Heat pumps pros and cons
More environmentally friendly
Extortionate prices and installation costs
Partially subsidised by the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme
The Government grant only covers up to 27% of the cost of heat pump and installation
Safer for your home
Difficult to install
Requires significant work and disruption to your home and garden
Doesn’t work efficiently in cold weather
May require planning permission in some parts of the country i.e; Wales and Northern Ireland, whilst in England and Scotland, it depends on your location and the size of your property
Not entirely carbon neutral as it uses electricity to operate
Some of the used fluids may not be sustainable
When are gas boilers going to be banned?
Gas boilers will no longer be installed in domestic homes from 2035. They will no longer be installed in new build homes from 2025.
You can still replace your old gas boiler with a newer model up until 2035. With gas boilers lasting between 10-15 years, this could then take you up until a time where hydrogen boilers are then available.
It’s likely that from 2026, any gas boilers installed will need to be ‘hydrogen-ready’. This would mean that a heating engineer can change some parts of the boiler over to enable the boiler to operate using 100% hydrogen as a fuel source.
Up until 2035, it’s likely that the cost of heat pumps will decrease and more installers will re-train to install them, driving the price down more. Short term, a gas boiler looks like a more feasible option until the renewable heating market matures from its current infancy.
Will hydrogen boilers or heat pumps replace gas boilers?
There is a place for all technologies in the future, depending on the specific circumstances of each property and individual.
Heat pumps are being offered in the short term as a solution purely because they are the only feasible low carbon option currently available. Despite being around for years, they have never been adopted by the U.K public because they are very expensive to install and don’t heat homes as well as gas boilers.
With the government subsidy on heat pumps supplying £5k towards the cost of a heat pump, it’s likely that many consumers will get quotes on heat pumps in the coming years. The government funding equates to the installation of around 90,000 heat pumps over the next three years.
Due to a skill shortage in heat pump installers, it’s unlikely that short-term demand for heat pumps will be met.
Currently, there are around 250,000 heat pumps in operation in the U.K, compared to 25,000,000 gas boilers in the U.K. It’s unlikely that in the short term there will be too much of a swing toward heat pumps as they just aren’t affordable or practical for a large majority of the population.
With over 85% of U.K homes connected to the gas grid, it makes sense that a fuel source such as hydrogen would replace natural gas in the long term. However, there is still a lot of testing to be done and widespread adoption of hydrogen won’t be possible until 2035 at the earliest.
In the long term, hydrogen boilers look the most likely to replace gas boilers as the least disruptive, most cost-efficient, and most environmentally friendly option available.
Given the length of time involved before hydrogen is readily available we expect to see most of the UK population renew their gas boiler when the time comes until such a time more feasible green energy options become available.
In the short term, those that can afford heat pumps and have suitable properties to get the most out of them will adopt the technology, which will help to reduce UK carbon emissions in part.