UK News

‘Hydrogen ready' marketing for boilers could be greenwashing, watchdog warns

The Government is set to decide later this year whether to pump hydrogen into the gas grid. (Andrew Matthews/PA)
August Graham, PA Business Reporter

The marketing of new gas boilers as “hydrogen ready” could be greenwashing and breaking consumer protection law, the competition watchdog has warned.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said that it was concerned by some large companies marketing boilers as able to use hydrogen – a gas which does not produce any carbon dioxide when it is burnt.

It said there were several issues with the practice. Firstly, the Government has not yet decided whether the UK’s gas grid should carry any blend of hydrogen to people’s homes.

That means that anyone who buys one of these boilers now will still just be burning natural gas.

The industry says it would be possible to start injecting the gas grid with about 20% hydrogen and 80% natural gas.

A Government decision on this is due later in the year. But even if it gets the thumbs up, the practice would not start until 2025 at the earliest.

By marketing these boilers as “hydrogen blend” or “hydrogen ready”, the CMA said it “may give the incorrect impression that use of hydrogen is imminent.”

It added: “We are … concerned about messaging used by several large businesses regarding boilers which can run on a blend of hydrogen with natural gas.

“We consider that these claims could constitute greenwashing by deceptively, or inaccurately, purporting the environmental credentials of these products which may influence a consumer’s decision-making.”

It also said that these boilers were being advertised as hydrogen ready, despite them being no different to every other boiler that has been sold in the UK since the early 1990s.

Since then all boilers have been tested with a blend of 23% hydrogen in the gas they use.

“These practices could lead consumers to believe that these boilers have a special feature which enable them to run with hydrogen, which is not the case,” the CMA said.

“Several businesses told us that their boilers are technically identical to previous products, except they are now marketed as ‘hydrogen-blend’.”

The warnings came amid a wider CMA review into the heating and insulation sector, which was published on Wednesday.

There is an at times heated debate raging between proponents of heat pumps and those who favour hydrogen to heat homes in future.

Around 17% of the UK’s carbon emissions currently come from heating homes, and most buildings in the UK are heated with gas. Moving away from this gas will be vital to meeting the country’s climate ambitions.

Some say the likely solution will be a mix of the two. Heat pumps offer an efficient form of heating using electricity – they work like reverse air conditioners – while proponents of hydrogen say it will be more suitable for some buildings.

One major difference, however, is that while heat pumps have been installed for years, and are common in many countries, there are currently no true hydrogen boilers available on the domestic market.

The CMA also reserved some criticism for sellers of heat pumps or solar panels. It found these companies commonly make claims about how much their products can save customers on their energy bills.

It said that truthful claims were unlikely to be problematic, but that some were not transparent or backed up by evidence.

Some companies claim savings of “up to” a certain amount, which can depend on many factors.

“Where claims are not representative of the real-world effects consumers are likely to experience, they can stop people making informed decisions and risk misleading them,” the CMA said.

George Lusty, senior director for consumer protection at the CMA, said: “We want people to have confidence when they buy green heating technologies and home insulation.

“It’s essential they get what they paid for and that energy efficiency and sustainability claims are fair and accurate.

“While many businesses will be operating in the best interests of their customers, some businesses appear to be misleading people into buying their products. This needs to stop.

“We will now be exploring these concerns further – including whether to take enforcement action.”