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Hydrogen Heating

Volume 834: debated on Monday 11 December 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the finding of the National Infrastructure Commission that there is no public policy case for hydrogen heating, set out in the Second National Infrastructure Assessment published in October.

My Lords, heat pumps and heat networks will be the primary means of decarbonising heat for the foreseeable future, and will play an important role in all 2050 scenarios. Of course, we welcome the NIC’s input, are carefully considering the analysis and will respond to the report in due course.

I thank the Minister for his reply. My first question is about the residents of Redcar. Their council leader has written to the Secretary of State to say that they do not want a hydrogen heating trial. Am I correct in saying that they will be allowed to follow the residents of Whitby and veto the proposal? After all, the Minister himself has said as much from the Dispatch Box. Secondly, what assessment have the Government made of recent scientific developments that show that hydrogen leaked into the atmosphere has an indirect global warming impact around 12 times greater than that of carbon dioxide?

With respect to the noble Baroness’s first question, I think she needs to read the letter from the leader of Redcar Council more carefully. I do not think it supports the analysis she gave. Nevertheless, I have said on numerous occasions that no hydrogen village trial will take place without strong support from local residents. On the noble Baroness’s second question, yes, hydrogen does have a high global warming potential, which illustrates the importance of not allowing it to leak at all.

My Lords, is the National Infrastructure Commission’s report really welcome? What it says in that report is that hydrogen molecules are just too difficult for 23 million domestic supplies at home. It wants to dig up or close down entirely the existing retail gas distribution system as well, because it thinks it does not fit in with our global aims—and it is absolutely right. And it wants to turn us into an all-electric economy. But have we got the slightest clue where all this extra electricity will come from, how it will be transmitted and delivered, and how that can be done at reasonable cost to the consumer? Until we have a clearer view on those things, it is very hard to just say that we welcome the NIC report.

Well, I did not say that we necessarily welcomed the NIC’s report; I said that we were studying it, and of course it will provide a useful backdrop to and illustration of the decisions that we will make. To go back to the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, we will announce a decision on the trial in Redcar very shortly. I think the noble Lord makes a good point; where does all the extra electricity come from? Of course, there is detailed scenario mapping done on that; we have very exciting and ambitious plans for lots more offshore wind, lots of solar development and lots of nuclear development—so there will be ample supplies of electricity available.

Does the Minister agree that it is pointless improving heating systems if many houses are badly insulated? What will the Government do to step up the programme to make sure that people can live in decent homes?

I agree with the noble Lord that energy efficiency and insulation are extremely important. That is why we are spending £6.5 billion over this Parliament on insulation, energy efficiency and clean heat measures; but, of course, there is always a lot more to do and we will have more to say on that shortly.

Is it not extraordinary that Germany appears to have decided that all its heating for domestic should be in a hydrogen/gas mix, and there are apparently at least four or five other European countries far ahead of us? How is it that the national infrastructure plan can ignore the work that appears to be being done on hydrogen on the ground in this country, with factories being built at the moment for the use of transport and all the extensive work being carried out in trials?

I do not think my noble friend is correct about attitudes in Germany. The latest information I have is that 10 homes in Germany—no more than that—are subject to the trial. The issue of blending hydrogen into the gas network is of course a separate issue, and that too is something on which we will have more to say shortly.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. Is the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, not completely right in one respect: that there is confusion about the transition—how it will be funded, how it will come about, how North Sea oil and gas will fit into that, when it will diminish, when it will completely finish being important in our energy mix? Is it not time we got below some of the very high-level aspirations of the Government and into the detail of what a transition plan will actually mean for the country?

The noble Baroness is absolutely correct. We have set out in great detail what the transition plan looks like. As I said in my Answer, electrification—heat networks in particular—will play a very important role in the decarbonisation of heat.

My Lords, among the more controversial recommendations of the report was a very sensible recommendation to set clear resilience standards and better maintenance practices for all infrastructure sectors. As the Minister’s department considers the report, will he pay particular attention to those recommendations?

My noble friend makes a very good point. We will of course fully consider those recommendations alongside the views on hydrogen heating.

My Lords, newspaper reports at the weekend suggested that the Government were looking for an entire town to use as a hydrogen heating pilot. Given the difficulties in Whitby and Redcar, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, which are not yet resolved but will be very soon, and recent scientific developments, which she also referred to, about indirect warming from hydrogen emissions being higher than previously thought, does the Minister think that now is the right time to be pushing ahead with this?

The noble Lord will find out whether now is the right time to be pushing ahead with it when we announce the decision. He should not necessarily believe everything that he reads in the newspapers.

My Lords, the Second National Infrastructure Assessment argues:

“Gas boilers, which currently heat around 88 per cent of English buildings, need to be phased out and replaced by heat pumps. Around eight million additional buildings will need to switch to low carbon heating by 2035, and all buildings by 2050”.

Can the Minister tell us how the Government plan to implement these recommendations and make carbon-neutral home heating available in time to meet our net-zero commitments?

There is a long and detailed answer to that, but there are a number of different elements to it. We will be consulting very shortly on the future homes standards, which will take advantage of new technology in terms of setting standards for all new developments. Clearly, there is a big challenge with existing, particularly residential, properties. I have said that heat pumps and heat networks will play the majority role in decarbonisation efforts. There could also be a role for renewable heating fuels, where there are some exciting developments.

My Lords, given the growing case against using hydrogen as the main source of domestic and office heating, are the Minister or Ofgem about to stop supplier companies offering so-called “hydrogen-ready” boilers to those who need a boiler replacement? Is the Minister any further ahead on the kind of technology that is going to be used for district heating schemes?

I think the CMA is looking into some of the claims. Chancellor, it is a complicated area, because you can blend hydrogen into the existing gas network and that will work perfectly satisfactorily with all existing gas appliances. In that respect, all appliances are hydrogen-ready. But I am sure Ofgem will want to look at the full implications of that as well.

When my noble friend helpfully lists forms of alternative renewable energy, could he be kind enough to include tidal?

I know my noble friend feels very passionately about this. As I have said, we allocated some contracts for difference in the last round for tidal. I am sure we will want to do so in the next round again, provided the bids are competitive—but it does contribute a relatively small part of our energy mix.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that part of the answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Howell, about hydrogen as an appropriate source of heating is that producing hydrogen in itself uses a tremendous amount of energy? It is one of the least energy-efficient ways of producing an alternative source.

The noble Lord is right. Of course, there are two separate issues. Hydrogen will play an important role in the transition; there are lots of industrial processes, such as heavy transportation, for which there is no realistic alternative to hydrogen, and we will be announcing the results of the first hydrogen allocation round shortly—a lot of things are happening in the near future. Hydrogen will play an important role in decarbonisation and long-term energy storage because we principally “waste”—in inverted commas—quite a lot of electricity in curtailment payments because we cannot use it. So, in terms of large-scale storage of energy, it can play an important role, as well as in industrial processes. There will be some important uses for hydrogen. There is a separate question about whether it should play an important role in home heating, about which we will decide shortly.