Heat pumps, not hydrogen boilers, are the future of home heating (despite what gas and boiler companies say) – Dr Richard Dixon

Heat pumps are commonplace in cold countries like Norway and both the UK and Scottish governments are going off the idea of hydrogen

Having resisted an organised backlash against heat pumps and the hype over hydrogen for home heating, UK ministers are about to confirm targets for heat pump manufacture. The Scottish Government recently confirmed its ambitions on heat pumps, with a target to end fossil fuel home heating by 2045.

If you have read something negative about heat pumps, be it in a newspaper, a Facebook forum or even on Mumsnet, it may have originated from a PR campaign paid for by the Energy and Utilities Association, the trade body for boilermakers and others in the gas industry. Surprise, surprise people who make boilers want to keep on making boilers, not heat pumps.

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In fact, heat pumps have been working well. Many European countries, including those with climate colder than ours, are well ahead, with Norway having 30,000 heat pumps per 100,000 people. The European average is 4,000, yet for the UK this figure is only around 560.

Heat pumps, like this one on a model house in Slough, are set to become an increasingly common sight (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)Heat pumps, like this one on a model house in Slough, are set to become an increasingly common sight (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Heat pumps, like this one on a model house in Slough, are set to become an increasingly common sight (Picture: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Whitby hydrogen trial rejected

The other side of the anti-heat pump propaganda is the gas industry’s continued push for hydrogen as the fuel of the future. Again, this is no surprise, given that they own a huge network of pipes which are going to be completely useless when we stop using fossil fuel gas. Originally both the UK and Scottish governments were keen on hydrogen for heating. So much so that, in 2020, Boris Johnson said we would have trials demonstrating a hydrogen village and then a hydrogen town by 2030.

For the village trials, the good residents of Whitby in Elsmere Port decided they were having none of this and were about to roundly reject a trial in their area through a council-run referendum when the government pulled the plug. For a short while, the alternative site at Redcar was going to have 1,000 houses connected to hydrogen, but clear local opposition caused that trial to be cancelled too.

This leaves the H100 project in Fife as the only trial of hydrogen for home heating in the UK. Some 300 homes are to be connected to a new hydrogen network and their boilers, cookers and gas fires swapped for hydrogen appliances. This project has been running massively late.

Dozens of studies have concluded that using hydrogen for home heating makes no environmental or financial sense. The Scottish Government recently ruled out hydrogen, while a UK energy minister said it was unlikely to play much of a role and pulled the plug on the funding.

A distracting dead end

It is very clear that hydrogen is not going to be the fuel of the future to heat people’s homes, making the H100 project completely pointless. People will have their homes and appliances converted to hydrogen, run them for two or three years, and then have to be converted back to natural gas and conventional appliances.

In their initial flush of enthusiasm, the Scottish Government invested nearly £7 million in the H100 scheme and energy regulator Ofgem £16m. They should try to get it back.

Hydrogen has been a distracting dead end for home heating. Heat pumps are clearly in the future, despite the industry’s propaganda campaign, and the UK is about to do the right thing and start catching up with our European neighbours.

Dr Richard Dixon is an environmental campaigner and consultant



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