The world’s first smart hydrogen hybrid heating system has been demonstrated in Pembrokeshire proving technology that could help the UK get to Net Zero.

The trial was part of the UK Research and Innovation-funded Milford Haven: Energy Kingdom project. It was successfully implemented by a collaboration of partners – Port of Milford Haven, Passiv UK, Wales and West Utilities, Kiwa UK, Worcester Bosch, Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, and Pembrokeshire County Council.

The trial combined a hydrogen-fuelled boiler with an electric air-source heat pump alongside smart control technology and it was conducted in a commercial building at the Port of Milford Haven, the UK’s largest energy Port.

According to The Energy Saving Trust, emissions from home heating and hot water need to be cut by 95% to meet 2050 UK Net Zero targets, and hybrid heating technology will become increasingly important both for commercial and domestic customers.

Hybrid heating systems can flexibly switch between using renewable electricity when it’s available, and green gases like hydrogen at other times. Using clean fuel in this way will enable the full decarbonisation of heat whilst ensuring cost and carbon emissions reductions are prioritised.

For many existing homes and businesses, hybrid heating systems offer an affordable and practical way to decarbonise heating. Research suggests that almost 50% of UK properties are not suitable for standalone heat pumps due to their poor thermal properties and other limitations. For example, many of the UK’s aged housing stock would need disruptive and expensive energy efficiency improvements such as wall and floor insulation and new radiators to be effectively heated by a standalone heat pump system. Hybrid heating systems are a cheaper, and less disruptive alternative that can be fitted as a quick and direct replacement to a typical boiler system.  

In this demonstration, Kiwa UK delivered bottled hydrogen to the Worcester Bosch boiler to simulate periods when renewable electricity was unavailable to run the heat pump, or when a temperature boost was required. The smart controls were designed by Passiv UK and integrated with the system seamlessly,  automatically switching between the air source heat pump and the hydrogen boiler.  Every 2 minutes the system assesses GB energy generation mix and renewable electricity availability on the local grid, and requests the boiler to run on hydrogen when unavailable.  Hydrogen is a clean fuel that produces zero carbon emissions during combustion.

The hydrogen boiler installed as part of the hybrid system was developed by engineers at Worcester Bosch during the last 3 years as part of the BEIS-funded Hy4Heat project, designed to help the country achieve its target of Net Zero emissions by 2050.

Steve Edwards, Commercial Director at the Port of Milford Haven, said:

Having already established itself as the UK’s Energy Capital, the Milford Haven Waterway is now at the centre of a renewable energy revolution, with huge potential to become the low carbon energy capital of the UK, safeguarding thousands of local jobs and creating thousands more new ones.

To get to Net Zero, we must deliver Net Zero power, transport and heat and we have all the necessary components here on our doorstep in Pembrokeshire to act as a vital cluster of national significance.

Wales & West Utilities, the gas network for Wales and south west England are one of the project partners. Matt Hindle, Head of Net Zero and Sustainability said:

We’re committed to playing our part in helping communities across Wales and south west England go green. Between 2021 and 2026 we’re investing £400m to prepare our network to transport green gas like hydrogen and biomethane.

Hybrid heating systems can be easily retrofitted to existing housing stock, without costly changes to radiators or internal pipework, keeping disruption to homes and communities to a minimum. This trial has demonstrated how they can work with hydrogen in place of natural gas.

The UK Government’s Heat and Buildings Strategy acknowledged that hybrids could play a transitional role in the 2020s and 2030s but contained no targets for their manufacture or installation. The 2020s must be a decade of delivery for Net Zero and we’d urge Government and policymakers to include hybrids in incentives and support schemes like the Clean Heat Grant, encouraging installations of hybrids to help towards achieving the 600,000 heat pumps per year target, alongside ongoing support to develop hydrogen for heating.

Cllr Cris Tomos, Pembrokeshire County Council Cabinet Member for the Environment, Welsh Language and Public Protection said:

The Council is proud to lead the Milford Haven: Energy Kingdom project which is positioning the Milford Haven Waterway as a frontrunner for the production, distribution and use of hydrogen. The projects heating and transport demonstrators demonstrate what can be achieved through collaboration with our partners and Pembrokeshire can use these innovations as we work to become a net zero carbon authority by 2030.

The Milford Haven: Energy Kingdom project is one of the detailed design projects within the Prospering from the Energy Revolution programme of works funded by UK Research and Innovation as part of their Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The project has set out to design a blueprint for smart local energy systems fuelled by renewable energy and hydrogen, and more specifically how to create demand and make the distribution and use of green hydrogen financially viable within buildings, industry, power and transport.