Hydrogen Energy makes strides in the UK
Jude Mclean, Green energy consultant with an interest in future innovation in the heating sector, primarily hydrogen technology
In 2016, the Paris accord on climate change took place during which the UK, along with all of the world’s major economies agreed to tackle climate change, by becoming carbon neutral by 2050.
Attaining the status of carbon neutrality by the middle of the century is an ambitious goal, but one that the UK government is serious about achieving. A ban on petrol and diesel cars and gas boilers have been some of the most recent major announcements.
It appears that hydrogen is going to be a key part of the strategy too, with the first homes in the UK to be fitted with hydrogen boilers and hobs in April this year.
The burning of fossil fuels in UK homes for heating accounts for an estimated one-third of the nation’s carbon emissions, so it’s not so surprising that it is at the heart of the government’s low carbon agenda and so huge changes are just around the corner.
Hydrogen is viewed as a viable solution due to the fact its combustion is carbon free, unlike natural gas that produces carbon dioxide, hydrogen only creates water vapor as a waste product.
As a result, residential gas combi boilers have already been the target of substantial legislation, including a ban on non-condensing boilers, resulting in all new boilers at least 90% efficient, as well as a complete ban on gas boilers in all new build properties from 2025.
Other renewables such as solar and heat pumps have long been thought of as the government’s priorities for the next generation of residential energy production, yet have received considerable criticism for being impractical.
Both solar and heat pumps are not reliable in terms of heat output and are incredibly expensive to install, averaging around £12,000 for ground source heat pump installation. Back in 2019, the Commission on Climate Change estimated that it would take more than 700 years to replace all gas boilers in the UK at the current pace.
These are just two of the major reasons why hydrogen is seen as more viable, but the other key point is that hydrogen can utilise the current infrastructure – the gas network. Hydrogen like natural gas can be fed into homes relatively easily, making it far less disruptive and easier to roll out.
Heating industry leaders Worcester Bosch and Baxi have both been developing their hydrogen boiler prototypes for several years now and have made significant progress.
Yet, it’s not all positive. Hydrogen production is still not perfected – it can be costly to produce and contributes to carbon emissions because it relies on either using renewable energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen to make “green hydrogen” or requires the use of carbon capture to trap the carbon released via the burning of fossil fuel to produce “blue hydrogen”.
Still, it is far less problematic than the current reliance on pure natural gas and will help the government reach its carbon neutral goal in time.
The first hydrogen homes are planned to be set up later this year, in Gateshead, London, where they will be supplied with hydrogen tanks. The first homes in the world to use green hydrogen through a local gas grid will be established in Scotland by the end of next year.