Anas Sarwar’s backing of the use of hydrogen over heat pumps to keep Scottish homes warm in winter would result in a dramatic increase in fuel poverty, the Scottish Greens have warned.
The Scottish Labour leader told the BBC’s Debate Night last week that he believed that Scotland “should have hydrogen energy going into homes” and not to replace fossil fuel boilers, many of which rely on natural gas, with heat pumps.
In a letter to Mr Sarwar, Scottish Green MSP Mark Ruskell said such a position would result in a situation that would “dramatically increase fuel poverty”, use more energy than necessary, and would not happen for many years, delaying necessary changes.
The letter states: “While renewable hydrogen may well have a significant role in such areas as large scale industry, heavy freight and storage, there is very little evidence that it is viable as a mainstream source of heating homes or buildings, with strong evidence that it is less energy efficient and more expensive to use compared to electric alternatives.
"By proposing hydrogen as an alternative to already existing technologies like heat pumps and heat networks for heating buildings, Scottish Labour is proposing an approach which uses far more energy than it provides, would dramatically increase fuel poverty and in which there is very little consumer confidence.
"Further, its deployment is years away, in light of a heat transition which needs to happen now.”
The letter raises a cancelled trail of hydrogen boilers in Whitby, North Yorkshire, and says a similar trail with free installation and a £1,000 payment in Levenmouth suffers from “sluggish” take-up.
This criticism comes despite the Scottish Government, which includes two Scottish Green ministers, aiming for 5 GW of installed hydrogen power by 2030, rising to 25 GW by 2045.
However, the government’s draft energy strategy and just transition plan also states it does not anticipate hydrogen to be used to heat homes. It states: “We do not consider that hydrogen will play a central role in the overall decarbonisation of domestic heat”.
The government’s Hydrogen Action Plan states that there is “some scope for hydrogen to support parts of our domestic heating systems”, and adds that “the potential for hydrogen to play a rolein heating buildings depends upon strategic decisions by the UK Government.”
A Scottish Labour spokesperson pointed at proposals for a ‘GB Energy’ company headquartered in Scotland which they claim will deliver clean energy by 2030, and the party’s Warm Homes Plan as examples of its commitment to tackling climate change.
The said: “We need to explore all options in order to modernise heating systems and deliver greener, cheaper household energy.
“The SNP-Green government have no plan whatsoever to deliver on their targets while the Tories have given up altogether.
“Labour will unlock Scotland’s potential as a clean energy superpower - lowering bills, creating jobs and delivering energy security.”
The shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, backtracked earlier this year on Labour’s planned £28bn green prosperity scheme, stating that “economic stability must come first”.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to delay targets on phasing out fossil-fuel boilers was also backed by Labour when they were asked following his speech which watered down many climate targets.