EDITOR’S COMMENT: if people want to switch to Hydrogen boilers, they should be free to do so. But the government shouldn’t be using taxpayer-funded subsidies or forcing people to make the switch.
In the streets of Levenmouth on Scotland’s east coast a project with extraordinary potential is about to take shape. Within the next two years, 300 homes in the area will have their gas boilers and cookers ripped out for a groundbreaking experiment that will help determine how Britain tackles climate change.
In place of the old appliances will be installed specially made boilers and cookers that will enable the households to become the first in the world to use pure hydrogen for cooking and heating.
More than 80 per cent of British homes use boilers that burn natural gas, causing global warming. “They’ve all got to be decarbonised by 2050,” Chris Stark, chief executive of the Climate Change Committee, the government’s advisers, said. “It’s a big challenge to overcome.”
The architects of the Levenmouth project in Fife, at the gas network company SGN, believe that hydrogen could be the solution. Hydrogen burns cleanly and could, proponents hope, be substituted relatively straightforwardly into Britain’s 280,000 kilometres of natural gas distribution pipes.
“Hydrogen offers a system transformation option for customers that means that, with a minor modification like the changing of their boiler, we can do all of the work in the background without them having significant disruption,” Angus McIntosh of SGN said.
In its green strategy last month, the government backed trials such as the one in Fife — which last week won funding from Ofgem to proceed — and said it hoped to see “a potential hydrogen town” with tens of thousands of homes before the end of this decade.
Convincing the public that hydrogen is safe — it has been associated with catastrophic explosions through history — is one challenge. The industry has spent years conducting tests in uninhabited properties to understand the risks. “Both natural gas and hydrogen are dangerous substances by their very nature,” Mr McIntosh said. “Hydrogen diffuses very quickly in air, more so than natural gas, because it’s lighter. We understand now that there has to be a certain volume before it could ever accumulate to an explosive level.”