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A postcard from the Netherlands

By Harry Handyside
15 February 2024
Energy, Transport & Infrastructure
Hydrogen and alternative fuels

In a small Dutch town, close to the German border, a rather remarkable trial has been happening for over a year. I had the privilege of visiting Lochem last week with Hello Hydrogen, where 12 historic homes, built in the late 1800s, are pioneering the adoption of hydrogen boilers for home heating. 

These homes, similar to Grade II listed buildings in the UK, are part of a groundbreaking project that will continue for another two years. The trial aims to prove the viability of utilising hydrogen as a heating source. One of the most intriguing aspects of hydrogen heating is its seamless integration into existing infrastructure.  

The boilers, which look almost identical to their gas-powered predecessors, were installed in a day and the residents report not noticing a single difference in the quality of service but did report an increase in efficiency over their previous gas boilers.  

Participation in the project is voluntary, and those not inclined to take part receive their natural gas supply through a newly installed pipeline. Hydrogen, which is piped into the homes through existing natural gas pipelines, undergoes stringent safety measures.  

From the installation of hydrogen sensors to additional security measures in the connecting pipelines, every precaution is taken to ensure the safety of residents. Furthermore, as hydrogen is a colourless and odourless gas, it is odourised before being pumped into the homes for safety purposes.  

The implications of this project extend beyond Lochem's borders, contributing to the broader conversation on decarbonising heating. With a mix of heating technologies including heat networks, all-electric heat pumps, and hybrid solutions, significant reductions in natural gas consumption are within reach. Research suggests that by 2030, a combination of these technologies could slash gas usage by 45%, offering substantial environmental benefits and creating exciting new employment opportunities for the UK. 

For well-insulated homes like new builds, heat pumps offer an efficient solution. However, in existing buildings, hybrids combining heat pumps with gas boilers can swiftly reduce carbon emissions, paving the way for the integration of renewable gases like green hydrogen. 

My visit to Lochem was an incredible opportunity to see the forefront of this technology first hand and it fills me with excitement for the possibilities in our future. The residents’ proactivity was inspiring, as they have led every step of the way in this trial in their mission to live more sustainably. This mentality is something that I hope can spread far and wide as we all work to do our part in creating a more sustainable future.