DESNZ axes plans for hydrogen town trials

The UK Government has shelved plans to trial hydrogen heating at a town-level scale, after smaller village-sized trials were cancelled due to fierce local opposition.

DESNZ axes plans for hydrogen town trials

The Department for Energy Security and Net-Zero (DESNZ) issued a statement today confirming the decision, which will delay the pilot until after Ministers have taken a strategic stance on the role of hydrogen in domestic heating in 2026. This announcement was nestled in between publications of monthly energy trends data.

Hydrogen “may have a role to play in heat decarbonisation”, DESNZ’s short statement reads. But it will be limited to “some locations” and will be rolled out across a longer time period than initially expected.

Ministers had hoped to undertake hydrogen trials at ever-increasing scales, from neighbourhood, to village, to town, before taking its strategic decision in 2026.

Neighbourhood trials are set to begin in Fife next year after delays, and are already underway in several locations in mainland Europe. SGN is leading the Fife project and has attributed delays to supply chain challenges.

However, both of the UK’s hydrogen village trials have been mothballed due to staunch opposition from local residents. The first, in Whitby, was axed last summer. The other, in Redcar, was abandoned in December.

The town pilot would have seen hydrogen used as a replacement for natural gas in up to 10,000 homes. A location had not been firmed up but four gas distribution network submitted applications for government funding under the scheme, floating locations in Chester, Humberside, Hull, East Riding, Leeds and Teesside.

Today’s news will come as a blow to gas distribution networks that have been campaigning for the UK Government to ensure that hydrogen has a key role to play in decarbonising the nation’s heating systems. Their argument is that, in doing so, gas infrastructure can continue to be used.

However, amid both protests and a growing body of research on the potentially limited emissions and cost benefits of hydrogen over heat pumps, Ministers are facing calls not to place all their bets on hydrogen.

Calls to action of this nature have been made by bodies including the National Infrastructure Commission, Citizen’s Advice, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee and E3G.

The Government’s own climate advisors have stated that, regardless of what decisions are made for the end-use of hydrogen, current progress to roll out electric heat pumps and connected heat networks is far too slow.

Related news: UK falling behind in global hydrogen race, report warns

Related analysis: How can Europe super-charge the delivery of its green hydrogen vision?

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