HY-Heat - UK Hydrogen-Boiler Standards and Efficiency

United Kingdom

On 13 December 2022, BEIS published a suite of hydrogen-related announcements related to developing the low-carbon hydrogen projects in the UK. As part of this announcement, BEIS published a consultation in relation to its proposal to set high efficiency standards for new gas boilers and effectively ban the installation of traditional gas boilers in homes from 2026.

Importantly for hydrogen, the proposal states that while new boilers installed after 2026 would continue to use methane gas, all newly-installed boilers would have to be “hydrogen-ready”, meaning they will be able to switch to hydrogen as an input. The final part of the consultation explores the role of hybrid heating systems combining a gas boiler and electric heat pump.

This consultation principally focuses on small gas boilers (capacity of 45kW or less), though BEIS is also seeking views on extending these proposals to 70kW boilers.

This consultation is part of the government’s wider Heat Network Transformation Programme that we discussed in our previous article, Turning the thermostat: UK moves to regulate heat.

For more on detail on how the potential approaches the government can take to decarbonise heating in the UK, please see our publications Getting warmer UKs Heat and Buildings Strategy and Reimagining our Energy – Renewable Heat.

The deadline for responses to the consultation is 21 March 2023.

Efficiency standards

There is currently a gap between lab-tested, advertised efficiencies of boilers and the efficiency that is actually delivered in homes. The consultation proposes new requirements, which BEIS expects to improve in-home performance by up to 6%. These policies include:

  • reforming boiler controls standards, to ensure boilers and controls are communicating in order to modulate boiler output and to deliver lower flow temperatures;
  • tackling boiler oversizing, particularly in combination boilers, through wider modulation ranges, allowing them to efficiently meet the space heating demands of homes throughout the heating season;
  • bringing system and regular boilers within the scope of expanded requirements;
  • improving the minimum standards for hot water tanks; and
  • developing installer skills and seek ways to improve heating system design, commissioning, and maintenance.

The consultation proposes that changes relating in-home boiler efficiency are implemented from 2025.

Hydrogen heating

Hydrogen-ready boilers are boilers which are initially installed to burn methane gas, but which can be converted by a gas engineer to operate on hydrogen, should hydrogen be rolled out through the gas grid.

The government proposes to proceed with requiring that all newly installed boilers be hydrogen-ready, assuming the following conditions can be met:

  • hydrogen-ready boilers can satisfy regulatory requirements once converted to operate on 100% hydrogen gas, including performance and safety requirements;
  • price parity with natural gas boilers will be achieved when hydrogen-ready boilers meet natural gas only boiler sales totals; and
  • a single market-wide definition of hydrogen-ready boilers is agreed.

Given that there is no guarantee that hydrogen-ready boilers would be converted, the government must ensure that consumers would not face a premium for their purchase. BEIS has stated that, based on a price promise made by boiler manufactures and industry representatives, it expects the upfront costs of hydrogen-ready boilers to reach price parity with existing natural gas boilers once they match the current levels of production. Through the consultation, BEIS seeks to understand how this price match will be achieved.

Hybrid heat pumps

BEIS sees an important role for hybrid systems in achieving net zero. The consultation seeks stakeholders’ views on the potential for technological developments and large-scale cost reductions in technologies such as compact hybrids.

The Net Zero Strategy sets out three illustrative potential scenarios for decarbonising the UK’s heating sector: (i) the high electrification scenario, where there is little to no role for hydrogen heating in buildings due to the growth of the heat pump market; (ii) the high hydrogen scenario, where hydrogen is seen as a feasible and preferable route for building decarbonisation; and (iii) the dual energy system scenario, combining both electrification and hydrogen heating. The consultation sets out that hybrid heat pumps, including those that combine heat pumps and hydrogen combustion boilers, could play an important role in each of these scenarios and seeks views on whether the government should actively promote hybrid installations by including them in the target for 600,000 annual heat pump installations by 2028.

Government response to the Call for Evidence on hydrogen-ready industrial boiler equipment

As part of the same suite of announcements, BEIS published a summary of the responses received in relation to its consultation on the development of possible options to enable or require hydrogen-ready industrial boiler equipment. Alongside this, commissioned an external research study into hydrogen-ready industrial boilers the findings of which may form the basis for further consultation on proposals for changes to policy for industrial boiler equipment. BEIS intends to sponsor the British Standards Institution to ensure that hydrogen-ready industrial-sized boiler equipment is covered by a Publicly Available Specification (PAS) and states that it will continue to assess the merits of requiring large boilers to be hydrogen-ready.

Commentary and next steps

The deadline for responses to the consultation is 21 March 2023.

Although this consultation extends UK government exploring the use of hydrogen for domestic heating, the consultation in isolation does not answer how hydrogen (in either pure or blended form) would get to UK homes. For this, we await a separate consultation on how transportation and storage of hydrogen would be regulated (for detail on the government’s potential approaches, please see our previous article: Regulating hydrogen transport and storage - options to choose from), and further work to allow blending into the NTS in the first place.