Gas boilers in UK homes may be banned by 2026 under net zero proposals

The plan will require all new models fitted to be 'hydrogen-ready'

A plumber installs a new fuel-efficient boiler in a UK home. Getty mages
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Gas boilers could be banned from being fitted in new homes from 2026 under net zero proposals being considered by the UK government.

Hydrogen boilers could soon become the norm in new builds under a consultation announced by the government on Tuesday.

If given the go-ahead, the plan would mean that all new boilers installed in four years’ time would have to be hydrogen-ready. While the boilers would continue to use natural gas they would be easily able to switch to hydrogen at a later date.

Hydrogen burns differently to natural gas so the designs of the boilers differ, but the basic principles are the same. Given the similarities, many homeowners view the hydrogen option as the best way to decarbonise their properties. Hydrogen emits only water rather than carbon dioxide when burnt. It can be generated using renewable electricity or from natural gas ― although that produces carbon emissions in the process.

A change in policy would make dozens of boiler models currently on the market obsolete.

The plan could go a long way to helping households to reduce their energy bills by cutting the use of expensive fossil fuels.

The consultation was published alongside the Conservative government’s £25 million ($30.9 million) funding to speed up the use of technology that makes hydrogen using bioenergy ― such as burning wood pellets ― and with the carbon dioxide generated being captured and permanently stored.

Rishi Sunak’s administration said the technology would be negative emissions, because the plants used for energy would absorb carbon as they grow. Then it would be permanently removed from the atmosphere through storage.

Bioenergy, however, is a source of controversy in debates on how to achieve net zero.

In the early 2000s bioenergy was seen as one of the many solutions to climate change. But in recent years critics have argued against the production of biofuels, saying it is in direct competition with efforts to feed the world’s growing population. It also contributes to deforestation because some of the crops used require a great amount of land.

Up to £60 million was also announced to start the next phase of research into a cutting-edge type of nuclear reactor which the government says is smaller than conventional power stations, more flexible, and can be built at a fraction of the cost.

The cash injection forms part of £102 million spending on nuclear and hydrogen energy announced on Tuesday.

As part of its ambition to eliminate carbon emissions overall by 2050, the government wants to develop a thriving low-carbon hydrogen sector. It has been touted as a clean energy solution to cut emissions in difficult-to-treat sectors such as heavy goods transport and industrial processes.

Boris Johnson's government last year announced grants of £5,000 ($6,863) for households to replace their gas boilers with a low-carbon heat pumps in efforts to cut emissions from homes.

Mike Foster, chief executive of Energy and Utilities Alliance and the Heating and Hotwater Industry Council, said introducing a mandate requiring all new boilers to be hydrogen-ready “is an important step towards decarbonising homes”.

He said ministers “are absolutely right to support this no-regrets option”.

Mr Foster noted assurances given by manufacturers that hydrogen-ready boilers would cost the same as natural gas appliances.

Despite his praise for the proposal, a recent review of more than two dozen independent studies found hydrogen will not have a major role in the future of heating homes across Britain. The research found that using hydrogen in domestic heating is less economic, less efficient, more resource intensive and has a bigger environmental impact than many alternatives.

Heat pumps, solar thermal panels that heat water directly in the sunlight, and district heating ― where whole blocks or neighbourhoods are supplied through the same hot water system ― were listed as several examples of hydrogen energy.

Updated: December 15, 2022, 10:07 AM