Trials are underway to investigate the feasibility of replacing natural gas with hydrogen to enable the UK to meet its goal of decarbonising home heating by 2050.
Mr Kwarteng said on Wednesday that all homes with gas boilers could potentially switch to hydrogen, depending on the results of tests to assess its safety and viability.
But he acknowledged that this would require the replacement of smart meters, which work by measuring gas flow, due to the chemical differences between hydrogen and methane.
“We are developing prototypes of smart meters that can be installed to be suitable for hydrogen,” he told MPs on the science and technology committee.
Mr Kwarteng said no calculations had yet been made on the costs of replacing smart meters to accommodate hydrogen, as it was not clear how many homes would be affected.
But he has resisted the suggestion to halt the rollout of smart meters, estimated to cost £ 13.4 billion, and has been repeatedly delayed.
Hydrogen only produces water as a by-product of its use, unlike natural gas methane which releases carbon dioxide. It can be carried out either with methane, the emissions of which are captured and stored, classified as “blue”, or by electrolysis, which is considered “green” if renewable electricity is used.
It will be in high demand in the coming years for industries that are difficult to decarbonize, such as steel, shipping and aviation.
But it’s seen by advocates in government as a potential solution to disruption caused by heat pumps, the other main green alternative to gas boilers, which may require major renovations before installation.
An analysis for the commercial department in 2018 suggested it would cost around £ 22 billion to prepare the gas distribution network for hydrogen, but that did not take into account the costs for owners to modify their infrastructure.
In addition to smart meters, a deployment of hydrogen would also require the replacement of boilers, hobs, ovens, gas fireplaces and pipes in the house.
Hydrogen hotplates are also expected to affect cooking as the flames are less intense, meaning pots and pans will need to be closer to heat, according to research from Citizens Advice. Cooking with heavy pots can also be more difficult.
“This idea that you have nothing to do with your infrastructure is a huge myth surrounding this technology,” said Ed Matthews, director of campaigns for climate think tank E3G.
Even then, the lowest industry estimates suggest that the price of hydrogen will be about three times the price of natural gas today and about two to three times the cost of running a heat pump.
MP Greg Clark, chair of the science and technology committee, said it was important for the government to start “connecting” the deployment of smart meters to the potential introduction of hydrogen.
“They need to understand the cost that will be incurred to replace smart meters, which may not have been installed until recently, and that customers are paying on their bills,” he told The Telegraph.
“The Prime Minister said [recently] that we have to be very aware not to impose an undue financial burden on consumers when making the transition to Net Zero and that is the right instinct, ”he said.
Government climate change advisers have suggested that hydrogen could provide heat to around 11% of homes by 2050 and called for all new boilers to be hydrogen-ready from 2025.
Detailed plans for how the UK will produce and use hydrogen are expected to be laid out by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in the coming weeks, ahead of a strategy to decarbonize home heating.
The government’s 10-point green plan, announced by Boris Johnson last year, called for the creation of a “hydrogen city” by 2030.