Smart meters will be rendered useless if Britain moves to hydrogen-powered homes in the future, Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, has admitted.
Trials are under way to look at the feasibility of replacing natural gas with hydrogen to enable the UK to meet its target of decarbonising home heating by 2050.
Mr Kwarteng said on Wednesday that all homes with gas boilers could potentially be switched to hydrogen, depending on the outcome of trials to assess its safety and viability.
But he acknowledged that would require the replacement of smart meters, which work by measuring the gas flow, because of the chemical differences between hydrogen and methane.
“We are developing prototype smart meters that can be installed to be adapted to hydrogen,” he told MPs on the science and technology committee.
Mr Kwarteng said no calculations had yet been done of the costs of replacing smart meters to accommodate hydrogen, because it was unclear how many homes would be affected.
But he resisted a suggestion of pausing the smart meter rollout, which it is estimated will cost £13.4 billion, and has been repeatedly delayed.
Hydrogen produces only water as a byproduct of its use, unlike methane natural gas which releases carbon dioxide. It can be made either using methane, with the emissions captured and stored, classed as “blue”, or through electrolysis, which is considered “green” if renewable electricity is used.
It will be in high demand in coming years for industries that are difficult to decarbonise, such as steel manufacture, shipping and aviation.
But it is considered by advocates within the Government to be a potential solution to the disruption caused by heat pumps, the other main green alternative to gas boilers, which can require extensive retrofits before installation.
Analysis for the business department in 2018 suggested that it would cost around £22bn to make the gas distribution network hydrogen-ready, but this did not take into account the costs to homeowners of changing their infrastructure.
As well as smart meters, a hydrogen rollout would also require the replacement of boilers, hobs, ovens, gas fires and pipes within the home.
Hydrogen-hobs are also expected to affect cooking because the flames are less intense, meaning pots and pans will need to be closer to the heat, according to research from Citizens Advice. Cooking with heavy pans might also be more difficult.
“This idea that you don’t have to do anything to your infrastructure is a massive myth that surrounds this technology,” said Ed Matthews, the campaigns director at climate thinktank E3G.
Even then, the lowest industry estimates suggest hydrogen will be priced around three times as high as current natural gas prices and around two to three times the cost of running a heat pump.
Greg Clark MP, chairman of the science and technology committee, said it was important that the Government begins to “connect” the smart meter rollout with the potential introduction of hydrogen.
“They need to understand the cost that will be incurred to replacing smart meters, which might have only been recently installed, and which customers pay for in their bills,” he told The Telegraph.
“The Prime Minister said [recently] that we have to be very conscious of not placing an excessive cost burden on consumers in the transition to Net Zero and that’s the right instinct,” he said.
The Government’s climate change advisers have suggested hydrogen could provide heating in around 11 per cent of homes by 2050, and have called for all new boilers to be hydrogen-ready from 2025.
Detailed plans on how the UK will produce and use hydrogen are expected to be set out by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in the coming weeks, ahead of a strategy on decarbonising home heating.
The Government’s 10-point green plan, announced by Boris Johnson last year, included the creation of a “hydrogen town” by 2030.