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Heat pumps alone won’t save us from freezing in winter

by WorldFinance
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heat pumps

The gas switchover of the 1960s and 1970s from Town Gas to Natural Gas was one of the greatest infrastructure challenges in this country’s history.At the time, a debate raged over whether to stick with coal-based gas or use the new North Sea resource. Arguments against natural gas ranged from saying it was too expensive, it was difficult to move around and it was more combustible.Fast forward 50 years and the same talking points are rearing their heads again as we discuss how to heat our homes for a greener future.The loudest voices will tell you the silver bullet must be heat pumps. They insist that all our homes should be heated and run only on electricity, supplied by renewable means. A no-brainer with no alternative required, they would have you think.The costs associated with upgrading the grid to accommodate the extra electricity is barely mentioned and the fact that around half of all electricity generated during the recent cold snap was with gas, because there was hardly a breath of wind, is conveniently overlooked.Proponents of heat pumps are certainly right to say they will have a major role in our future home energy system. But hydrogen also has an important role to play in offering people choice and security of supply.Heat pump supporters who believe there is no other way should ask themselves: why is the Government so insistent on talking about hydrogen if all our problems are solved by heat pumps? Why are the boiler manufacturers, who also produce heat pumps, welcoming discussion of hydrogen home heating?The issue with going all in on renewable electricity is that it can be vulnerable to shocks. Something else has to step in when there’s not enough wind. That something else has to be ready and waiting all the time. We will need to use gas in the future and we should be looking at low-carbon options like hydrogen.In December, the Government launched a consultation on whether all newly installed boilers – of which an expected 10 million will go into homes over the next decade – should be “hydrogen-ready”.This means they will be able to run on the natural gas we use today but will also be able to run on the hydrogen gas we could use in the future. They will cost the same, fit in the same spot and run in the same way as your boiler does now.In the Government’s own words, ensuring all new boilers installed from 2026 are hydrogen-ready is “a low regrets action in terms of impacts to consumers”.When Town Gas switched to Natural Gas, it took the industry a decade to roll out. Like the switch to HD TV or bringing mobile phone signals to all parts of the country, any mass change takes time.That is why it’s so important to start the conversation on hydrogen now, even if hydrogen-ready boilers won’t go on sale for a few more years.The industry is convinced now is the time to start the discussion. That is why we have come together to form the Hello Hydrogen collective because we know we cannot sit on our hands.We are made up of the UK’s gas networks, boiler and heat pump manufacturers, and energy organisations. All agree that continuing to use natural gas will not be an option if we are to reach our carbon emission targets.But we also know that we must bring consumers along with us if they are to embrace a future that no longer uses the blue flames we’ve been used to since the 1970s.We know reaching for the thermostat is virtually reflexive, getting a flame on the hob is expected and running a hot bath is much needed. Hydrogen can help to ensure these everyday activities continue to be as instant as they are now.However, not all in Westminster agree that hydrogen for home heating has a significant future. A recent report by the Science and Technology committee of MPs gave a more cautious view, saying its use in homes is likely to be “limited rather than widespread”.The reason it could be limited is because homes that use hydrogen are likely to be in so-called “industrial clusters” – sites where hydrogen will be made and used for high-energy industries. These hubs would cover as much as 40pc of homes connected to the gas network.So the question remains: what happens to those limited number of homes? Do they get a choice or must they only have a heat pump?And what do we say to those who cannot fit a heat pump or don’t have a spare £15,000 for the cost of one?The millions of households living in Georgian terraced homes or city centre flats will struggle to affordably fit a heat pump. Do we tell them to hold tight and a different electricity solution will come along?What should a landlord do when it comes to upgrading a boiler in their property? Hike rents to cover the cost of a heat pump? Or turn to a practical solution like a hydrogen-ready boiler?The point is this: we must have a choice. One glove will never fit all. We will need to look at all options and stop telling people they can only have one.The industry has a choice: continue to fit gas boilers or fit hydrogen-ready ones. We think doing the latter is a win-win situation and have already committed to the new boilers remaining the same price as current ones.I completely understand that change can be difficult for many. We are generally cautious of the new. We ask questions and want to gather information. We want ease and convenience.But without change, we would still be using Town Gas. And if we are ever to reduce the carbon emissions of the future – of which residential properties make up 26pc of all the UK’s emissions – we need to be open to debate, willing to work together and recognise that a future with choice is the only rational way forward. Dr Angela Needle is campaign director for Hello Hydrogen and director of strategy at Cadent Need help? Visit our adblocking instructions

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