27th March 2023, London – The UK government’s proposed Energy Bill, currently passing through the House of Lords, could force hundreds of homes in trial areas to convert their home heating to dangerous hydrogen whilst pushing up national energy bills, according to Global Witness.  

The legislation will enable the creation of a “hydrogen village” in either Redcar or Whitby, Ellesmere Port. Residents in the area that’s selected will be mandated to take part in the trial, meaning hundreds of homes will be given the choice of either becoming guinea pigs for hydrogen heating or to have electric heating installed.

At the same time, the Energy Bill includes provisions that would force all UK households, regardless of what energy they use in their home, to pay a “hydrogen levy” on top of already sky-rocketing bills. This levy would be used to subsidise the gas industry in its aimed expansion of hydrogen.

The fossil fuel industry are key backers of hydrogen-for-heating as it would allow them to continue producing gas and using existing infrastructure. A senior figure at Cadent Gas – the company behind plans for a trial in Whitby - has boasted of meeting with the Government about this. The secretariat of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hydrogen meanwhile has received funding from gas companies – and its former Chair, Jacob Young MP, has campaigned for his constituency (Redcar) to be a hydrogen trial site. Gas lobbyists were also out in force at both the Conservative and Labour party conferences last year, promoting hydrogen as a green fuel.

Sarah Biermann Becker, Senior Investigator at Global Witness, said:

Forcing households onto hydrogen heating is scarily reminiscent of some of the dynamics in the recent pre-payment meter scandal, which was rightly deemed an outrage. And by adding further costs onto already unaffordable bills, from which energy companies stand to benefit, it is clear that this is a government totally unable to learn its own lessons. Hydrogen heating will be expensive, dangerous, and bad for the climate.”

“The fossil fuel industry’s wholesale backing of hydrogen heating is a case of the emperor’s new clothes. It allows polluters to hide behind an energy form far less scrutinised in the climate debate, whilst carrying on with the same polluting practices as before. Fossil fuel fingerprints are all over the current draft of the Energy Bill.”

David Cebon, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Cambridge University and a member of the Hydrogen Science Coalition, said:

“Hydrogen for heating makes no sense for several reasons – one of them being safety. The Government’s own safety assessment stated that it isn’t safe to pipe hydrogen into homes without prior safety checks and changes to the pipework. So, for the hydrogen trials to be safe, all the appliances and pipes in every home in the trial area would either have to be changed to run on hydrogen or be disconnected from the gas grid. If any household refused to collaborate, then in theory the current draft of the Energy Bill gives gas companies the right to forcibly enter their homes.” 

Fossil fuel companies are lining up to support hydrogen for heating as a favourable alternative to a phase out of gas infrastructure. This is despite warnings that hydrogen is:

        Dangerous – Hydrogen is four times more explosive than fossil gas and produces nitrous oxide that with even short-term exposure can carry serious health risks.

Expensive – Hydrogen is significantly more expensive than using gas for heating and could add an average 70% to energy bills from 2025, according to Cornwall Insight.

       Polluting – If produced using fossil gas its greenhouse gas footprint would be 20% higher compared to just fossil gas alone, and if produced using electricity would divert renewable electricity away from other much needed uses.

       Insecure – Using fossil gas to produce hydrogen for heating would require additional gas imports into the UK, undermining efforts to get off Russian gas.

Biermann Becker, added:

“We're at an important juncture in the debate around the future of the UK’s energy system. Hydrogen heating is not the answer to the climate crisis or the energy crisis – it is dangerous, expensive and polluting. The only purpose it serves is allowing big polluters to carry on polluting under an entirely false green banner. Any attempts to pursue hydrogen heating should be seen as pure greenwashing that would delay climate action and worsen the climate crisis. The only solution we should be pursuing is the full and proper phase out of all fossil fuels.”

Global Witness is calling on Parliamentarians to see through the fossil fuel greenwash and reject hydrogen heating measures within the Energy Bill – both for those communities that will be forced into the trials, as well as its rollout more broadly.