The UK is legally bound to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. We are making some achievements as a nation in this area, with energy consumption in the UK having dropped by 12% overall since 2000.
Since the turn of the millennium, there has been an increase of 14% in the number of households and an increase of 13% in the population. In the same timeframe, household energy consumption has fallen by 23%.
This gives some hope that we are moving in the right direction, but it is arguable that much of this improvement came because of behavioural changes driven by awareness. To move further, we will need to invest in new technologies, and develop appropriate regulations.
On the regulations side, Part L is being reviewed and there is a 2025 date for the new future homes standard that will require homes to have 75-80% lower carbon emissions.
On the technology side, we understand the benefits of heat pumps, hybrid systems and district heating. Hydrogen keeps coming into the spotlight but its deployment at scale is still far from certain.
Hydrogen, aka H2, is a massively abundant element; indeed, it is the most abundant element in the universe, one of the 10 most abundant elements in the earth’s crust and in combination with other elements it is found in great quantities. The most abundant compound on earth is water which is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen.
On the surface it seems that hydrogen is the ideal gas for use at the point of combustion, i.e. in homes and businesses. This is largely because hydrogen has been identified as a carbon-free “green” gas. Combustion of hydrogen produces zero carbon monoxide and zero carbon dioxide. It is true that the combustion of hydrogen produces greenhouse gas, but this steam is a short-lived greenhouse gas as it condenses to pure water either as part of the managed combustion process or as rain.
There are a few considerations to be made as hydrogen burns with no colour or visible flame so special technologies need to be employed to confirm ignition in a boiler. Also of note is that to cook with hydrogen or to have a hydrogen gas fire, it is necessary to “add colour” to the flames for safety purposes. There is the safety issue of storage, however methane or natural gas are also potentially explosive, so it is rightly assumed that storage issues can be overcome.
On the product side, when considering heating, 90% of the components in a traditional boiler can be transferred to a hydrogen boiler; we already see “hydrogen ready” boilers being announced. So why is the approach to hydrogen as a heating fuel of the future so cautious?