Hydrogen is a credible option to help decarbonise the energy system and its largest potential to contribute to it is as a low carbon fuel for heat in buildings and industrial processes.
That’s according to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which suggests the government should explore the option and commit to developing a low carbon heat strategy within the next three years to encourage commercial investment in producing hydrogen.
It says with a planned approach, it is likely the use of the low carbon fuel will enable UK emissions to reach lower levels by 2050 than could be achieved without it.
Its latest report, which looks at the role of hydrogen in a low carbon economy, adds hydrogen could play a “valuable role” as part of a heating solution for UK buildings, primarily in combination with heat pumps as part of ‘hybrid heat pump’ systems.
It finds heat pumps, powered by increasingly low carbon electricity, offer the potential to provide heat efficiently for most of the time, with hydrogen boilers contributing mainly as back-up to meet peak demands on the coldest winter days.
It states deployment of this combination of hydrogen and heat pumps “could almost completely displace fossil fuel use in buildings”, enabling the energy system “to reach very low emissions”.
That should, however, be combined with greater energy efficiency, cheap low carbon power generation and electrified transport to ensure hydrogen makes an “important contribution” to decarbonisation.
The cheapest scenario suggests a mix of installing hydrogen boilers and electrifying heating would cost the UK around £28 million a year between 2030 and 2050 – and could be managed without increasing consumer bills.
The report suggests while production and use of hydrogen is “generally less efficient” than electrification, hydrogen is more readily storable than electricity at very large scale.
This means hydrogen could replace natural gas – and potentially oil – in parts of the energy system where full electrification is very difficult, disruptive or expensive.
However, production of the low carbon fuel at scale will rely on the deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS) – but deploying hydrogen from gas with CCS in very large quantities could mean the emissions savings may be insufficient to meet long term emissions targets.
The Committee, therefore, suggests hydrogen is best used selectively, where it adds most value alongside widespread electrification, improvements to energy and resource efficiency and use of CCS in industry and on bioenergy.
That means using hydrogen where the alterative is continuing to burn unabated fossil fuels or where there are limits to feasible electrification.
- It suggests heat pumps, powered by increasingly low carbon electricity, offer the potential to provide heat efficiently for most of the time, with hydrogen boilers contributing mainly as a back-up to meet peak demands.
- The Committee finds deployment of this combination of hydrogen and heat pumps ‘could almost completely displace fossil fuel use in buildings’
- That should, however, be combined with greater energy efficiency, cheap low carbon power generation and electrified transport to ensure maximum decarbonisation.