Case study (UK): Hydrogen-heated homes of the future

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Industry sector

  • Distribution Network
  • Generation and Wholesale Market
  • Supply and Retail Market
  • Transmission Network

The UK’s first houses to demonstrate the use of hydrogen-fuelled appliances in a real-world setting are being developed by gas distributor Northern Gas Networks in Gateshead, in the north of England.

This case study is supplied by Sian Fletcher, Communications Lead at Northern Gas Networks.

  1. The challenge

    The UK must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. However, with 85% of the UK connected to the gas network and 30% of current emissions coming from natural gas, the way we heat our homes needs to change. 

    Re-purposing gas networks to carry a clean-burning gas like hydrogen could help solve the problem of heating emissions because, unlike natural gas, it produces no carbon at point of use.

    Using low carbon hydrogen could help reduce UK emissions, while enabling customers to still choose the energy they use. Prototype hydrogen appliances including boilers, fires and cookers have already been developed in the UK.

    However, public awareness and understanding is very low when it comes to specific energy transitions, like moving towards a hydrogen economy. 

    Northern Gas Networks’ (NGN) customer perceptions research shows that only 28% of customers are aware of hydrogen technologies as a potential solution to the decarbonisation of heat. Furthermore, stakeholder feedback we have received has highlighted that being able to see, touch and interact with hydrogen appliances would be one of the most powerful things to help with hydrogen adoption.

  2. The approach

    In response to these challenges, NGN, gas distributer for the north of England, in partnership with the Government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and fellow gas distribution network company Cadent, has built the UK’s first hydrogen show homes.

    The semi-detached houses demonstrate the use of hydrogen fuelled appliances in a real-world setting and showcase the use of 100% hydrogen for domestic heating and cooking.

    Located at an NGN innovation site, InTEGReL, in Low Thornley near Gateshead, the homes give the public a glimpse into a hydrogen-fuelled future. The project has secured £250,000 of funding from the BEIS Hy4Heat programme, which has an overarching mission to establish whether it is technically possible, safe, and efficient to use hydrogen for heating homes and commercial buildings.

    The public are able to interact with a range of installed hydrogen-fed appliances at the show homes. This includes hydrogen appliances developed with the support of BEIS as part of the ‘Hy4Heat’ programme including hydrogen ready boilers by leading manufacturers Baxi Heating and Worcester Bosch and prototype fires, cookers and hobs by other manufacturers. The Hy4heat appliances, which have been developed in the UK, are available on rotation so that different manufacturers can share their innovations with the public.

    NGN is using the opportunity to run valuable customer research about hydrogen technologies to help shape development, bringing people into conversations on functionality, as well as what appliances should look and feel like.

    Designed with input from NGN Citizen’s Jury (a group of around 50 domestic customers broadly representative of the network), we’ve prioritised investment for interactive dashboards and virtual tours in response to feedback.

    The show homes are also available for group visits from schools, colleges and universities with the aim of educating children and young adults about the energy requirements of houses and how these could be met as we achieve net zero.

    The homes also aim to make visitors aware of exciting potential career opportunities in the emerging green economy and highlight the need for skills in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.

    Group tours and educational activities are being co-designed by NGN’s Young Innovators Council, which aims to engage young energy customers of the future.

  3. Impact and outcomes

    Since the beginning of the project, 330 V2G devices have been installed across the UK, and over three million ‘free’ miles made available to customers who exported energy back to the grid during peak times.

    Customers in the trial have been able to earn as much as £725 a year without needing to do anything except keep their cars plugged in when they are not in use.

    Research has shown V2G has the potential to save £3.5bn per year in areas such as grid infrastructure reinforcement, storage and generation, as a result of the support it offers during periods of increased energy demand.

    During the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, lockdown in the UK also highlighted the potential of V2G. As an unprecedented number of people lived and worked solely at home, the amount of flexible capacity in Kaluza’s V2G portfolio increased by up to 30% compared with pre-lockdown levels.

    Such capabilities will become increasingly necessary and valuable as millions more electric cars and heating systems connect to the energy system. By 2030, the UK could have almost 11 million EVs on the road. If 50% of these vehicles were V2G enabled, this would open up 22 TWh of flexible EV discharging capacity per year and could provide ~16GW of daily flexible capacity to the grid.

  4. Next steps

    The Hydrogen Homes have already received significant interest from national and local government, media, customers, and other stakeholders keen to understand more about hydrogen as a potential decarbonisation energy solution in a real-life setting.

    We are finding them to be an effective engagement and educational tool to demonstrate that customers have a choice about how they can heat their homes in future, by giving them direct access to existing and new technologies being developed. 

Consumer benefits

  • The Hydrogen Homes project is an opportunity for deeper discussion and engagement on the topic of green heating, helping further understand customers’ needs.

  • Designed as a Citizen Science project, customer interaction with the homes will provide a valuable opportunity to gather feedback that NGN partners, including appliance manufacturers, can use to test and refine new technologies and optimise their capabilities.