Homeowners who refuse to take part in a hydrogen energy trial will be forcibly cut off by gas network operators, under Government plans to test green heating alternatives.
Residents in one village will begin the pilot scheme by 2025 to help the Government assess whether hydrogen gas can be used as a low-carbon alternative for heating homes across the country.
Ministers insisted the powers to enter people's homes and switch off their gas would only be used as a "last resort" if the homeowners had refused to engage with any other options.
A consultation, which ended this week, suggests the Government will seek powers to allow gas distribution networks to enter homes if their owners do not wish to take part in the trial, in order to safely switch them off from the gas grid.
Current powers enable network operators to enter premises for a variety of purposes, including for suspected gas leaks or inspecting pipes and fittings.
Hydrogen, which is lighter and more flammable than natural gas, requires homeowners to replace their hobs, ovens, gas fires and pipes to ensure they operate safely.
The Government has vowed to tackle emissions from our homes in its plans to reduce greenhouse gases by 78 per cent by 2035 and to get to net zero by 2050.
Around 85 per cent of British homes use natural gas, which is mostly methane, for heating and cooking, accounting for around 14 per cent of the UK’s emissions.
Viable alternative to natural gas
The Government has suggested that hydrogen could prove a viable alternative to natural gas in some homes, depending on the outcome of trials to assess its safety and viability.
Hydrogen is a more explosive fuel than natural gas, although energy companies say it can be made equally safe with retrofits to the network.
It is expected to support the rollout of heat pumps as the main alternative to gas boilers when its heat and buildings strategy is introduced later this year.
Low-carbon hydrogen can be made by either using methane, with the emissions captured and stored, which is classed as ‘blue’, or through electrolysis, which is considered ‘green’ if renewable electricity is used.
It will cost around £22 billion to make the gas distribution network hydrogen-ready, according to 2018 analysis by the business department, and the costs of hydrogen are expected to be around three times that of natural gas.
Philip Dunne MP, the Conservative chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, said: “The proposed powers suggested in the Government’s consultation document on the hydrogen trials, if taken forward, must only ever be used as a last resort and purely in the interests of safety for all concerned.”
Darren Jones MP, the Labour chairman of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, said that powers of entry is “a question of timing”.
“There might be some households towards the end of the transition period who will ultimately have to be forced into a lower carbon option but these powers should not be used early in the transition, and especially not when other options are not market viable and/or without government financial support,” he said.
Alternatives will be offered to participants in the initial village hydrogen trial, under the Government's plans.
Delayed Government plans
The Government’s long delayed heat and buildings strategy is expected to lay out plans for homes to switch to low-carbon heating, including funding for energy efficiency and heat pumps.
It is expected to come in conjunction with plans to move green levies from electric to gas bills in order to encourage the shift to electrified heat such as heat pumps.
But there are concerns both may be delayed again amid the gas price crunch, which has pushed wholesale prices to record levels that will be passed on to consumers when the price cap is raised again in February.
Richard Lowes, an energy expert at the University of Exeter, said the need to secure powers of entry showed that “hydrogen isn’t an easy drop in solution.”
“We’ve been told it’s an easy thing to do and people won’t even notice. Clearly this shows that isn’t the case.”
A BEIS spokesperson said: “The UK is playing a leading role in tackling climate change and will make a decision on the role of hydrogen in heating homes in 2026.
“No one will be forced to use hydrogen as part of the heating trials and no trials will take place until we are satisfied they will be run safely. Gas Distribution Networks would also only enter homes using the proposed powers as a last resort to ensure those homes kept safe.”