Businesses flogging “hydrogen-ready” boilers are perpetuating “misleading” marketing and “greenwash”, which could lead consumers to splash out on conventional fossil gas boilers believing they are investing in an environmentally friendly product, UK regulators have warned.
In a new report released yesterday, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the government body responsible for protecting consumer rights, raised the alarm on boilermakers marketing conventional gas boilers as “hydrogen-ready” or “hydrogen-blend”, as well as a litany of misinformation in sales material that gave misleading information on the certainty of an H2 heating rollout and the environmental benefits of using hydrogen as a heating fuel.
“We are concerned that claims and messaging about hydrogen-capable boilers used by several businesses may constitute greenwashing and mislead consumers into thinking that these products are more environmentally friendly or ‘greener’ than they are,” the CMA said in its report.
The marketing on “hydrogen-blend” in particular gives the impression that these products are somehow different to conventional gas boilers, the regulator warned, even though they are technically identical.
Moreover, the CMA has seen evidence that some “large businesses” are giving a misleading impression of the certainty of the hydrogen roll-out — for example implying that the UK will definitively start with a 20% blend of hydrogen in the gas network before moving to 100% later on.
In fact, the UK government is not due to reach a decision on whether to move ahead with hydrogen blending until later this year, and will not decide on hydrogen heating until 2026.
“We note that several parliamentary inquiries have raised questions about the viability of using hydrogen for heating at scale,” the report added drily.
Taken together, the report found customers could be hoodwinked into believing a "hydrogen-blend" boiler has benefits a standard boiler doesn’t — and that buying a "hydrogen blend" or "hydrogen-ready" boiler is the only way of future-proofing their heating system against a hydrogen rollout they’ve been led to believe is inevitable.
The regulator also raised concerns about a voluntary certification scheme adopted by some businesses that claims to have tested boilers’ suitability to run on 20% hydrogen — an unnecessary claim given that all gas boiler models are already tested to run on 23% hydrogen as a legal requirement.
“The use of such certificates risks misleading consumers into thinking that boilers bearing a particular mark offer specific environmental benefits over and above those available from standard gas boilers,” the CMA’s report read.
Consumers are also being fed a diet of marketing material exaggerating the environmental benefits of hydrogen heating, the regulator found.
In particular it honed in on some boilermakers distributing marketing material saying that “water is the only by-product of hydrogen production” — which is an outright falsehood — “and/or describing hydrogen as a zero carbon fuel source”.
Water is a by-product of burning H2 at source, but not of hydrogen production, but the CMA confirmed to Hydrogen Insight that it has indeed seen marketing material to this effect.
But even manufacturers emphasising that water is the only by-product of burning hydrogen in a boiler are still making a misleading claim, erasing mention of all greenhouse gas emissions further up the supply chain.
Hydrogen sent to UK homes could be grey H2 made with unabated fossil gas, which is even more polluting that burning methane alone, or blue hydrogen made with gas and carbon capture and storage, which would also carry a greenhouse gas footprint.
Moreover, burning H2 in a boiler can also produce nitrous oxides (NOx), which can be harmful to humans and is also a potent greenhouse gas in its own right.
The report has the potential to be embarrassing for the UK government, which recently consulted on plans to mandate for all boilers sold after 2026 to be “hydrogen-ready”.
Several UK boiler manufacturers are touting hydrogen as a viable solution to hydrogen heating, despite 41 independent studies warning that it is expensive and inefficient, and will not play a significant role.
“Future boilers will be 100% hydrogen-ready to take on more readily available hydrogen fuel supplies”, says boilermaker Worcester Bosch on its website, adding in its FAQs: “A hydrogen-ready boiler is a gas-ﬁred heating boiler which is capable of burning either natural gas or pure (100%) hydrogen.”
And Vaillant says this: “For 100% hydrogen to heat homes, homeowners will [italics ours] need to upgrade their boilers to a hydrogen-ready boiler, this transition will be a natural progression once hydrogen-ready boilers are available on the market.”
Vaillant does however also emphasise that any hydrogen heating roll-out is unlikely to happen for many years.
Hydrogen Insight has contacted the UK government, Vaillant and Worcester Bosch for comment.
UPDATED: to include CMA clarification and remove "hydrogen-ready" from paragraph 4.