Scotland is set to start the world’s first trials of green hydrogen to replace natural gas for cooking and heating in 300 homes, the UK’s energy regulator Ofgem announced. Scotland’s gas company SGN will fit houses in Fife with free hydrogen heating systems and stoves/ovens to be used over four years. The aim is to see if carbon-free hydrogen, made from water and electricity via electrolysis, can help the UK meet its carbon goals.
Ofgem awarded £18 million ($24 million) to fund the project as part of an innovation competition used to develop new green tech and infrastructure. It’s also chipping in £12.7 million ($17 million) for offline tests on using natural gas pipes to safely transport hydrogen gas over large distances.
Hydrogen is having a moment today, as Toyota also unveiled its second generation, hydrogen-powered Mirai. However, many of the same limitations that apply to green hydrogen in vehicles apply equally to heating systems and appliances. For example, hydrogen electrolysis is only about 80 percent efficient, meaning that 20 percent of the electricity used to create it is wasted. If that electricity was instead used to power heat pump-based central heating, it could be more cost-effective than a hydrogen-powered furnace in many cases.
Still, the potential use of green hydrogen in the UK is considered important because 85 percent of homes are heated with a gas furnace, or boiler as it’s called in Britain. At the same time, the UK has set a goal to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.
“If we truly want to reach a net zero de-carbonized future, we need to replace methane with green alternatives like hydrogen,” the National Grid’s Antony Green told The Guardian. “Sectors such as heat are difficult to de-carbonize, and the importance of the gas networks to the UK’s current energy supply means projects like this are crucial if we are to deliver low carbon energy, reliably and safely to all consumers.”
Update 11/30/2020 3:42 PM ET: The article originally stated that Fife was a city, but it’s actually a council area.