Gas industry’s hydrogen talk likely to end hopes of fossil fuel ban in new buildings

The gas industry has announced that it is ready to supply a ’20 per cent’ blend of hydrogen with natural gas next winter in a move that is likely to end all hopes that the Government will ban fossil fuel boilers in new buildings from 2025.

Many doubt that the hydrogen blending plan (which actually means just 7 per cent in calorific supply terms) is at all ecologically sustainable, or even that 100 per cent ‘blue hydrogen’ heating supply is ever achievable. However the gas industry, in offering ‘hydrogen ready’ gas boilers and also promising an early start to gas blending, may well argue that its strategy is in keeping with the rather slippery policy language of the Government’s latest proposals for a low carbon heating ‘market based mechanism’.

In short, there will probably be some sort of mechanism to require the heating industry to market a few thousand heat pumps in new buildings every year, but most new buildings will be locked into gas heating. The only difference will be that the boilers will have ‘hydrogen ready’ stickers on them, almost always without even any hydrogen ‘blending’. Any ‘blended’ hydrogen will of course come from natural gas – thus increasing the high-priced quantities of natural gas the UK now imports from around the world.

The Government’s latest proposals for support for heat pumps promise a lofty ambition of 600,000 installations a year. However this is by 2028, safely the other side of one or perhaps two General Election(s), and, crucially, without any legally enforceable means of achieving this goal.

The Government is proposing an ‘obligation’ on the heating manufacturers to supply an (unspecified) proportion of heating units in the form of heat pumps. But the initial (legally enforceable) size of this obligation is likely to be quite small and stated ‘ambitions’ to increase this in the future may be worth, in practical terms, rather little. But things get worse.

The language used to describe the Government’s commitment to low carbon heating in new build is ambiguous. They say, on pages 3-4 of their document, ‘The government has therefore announced that under the forthcoming Future Homes Standard new buildings will be required to be future-proofed with low-carbon heating and world-leading levels of energy efficiency, while alongside the Heat and Buildings Strategy we are consulting on proposals to phase out the installation of fossil fuel heating systems off the gas grid’.

Now what on earth does ‘new buildings will be required to be future-proofed with low carbon heating’ actually mean? Why not simply say ‘new buildings must be fitted with low carbon heating’? (which would imply heat pumps, or, well, something else that is low carbon – but not natural gas!). Or also simple, and arguably best: ‘fossil fuel heating systems will not be allowed in new buildings from 2025’.  The slippery phrasing employed gives wriggle room to allow builders in cahoots with the gas heating industry to install ‘hydrogen ready boilers’ (now being enthusiastically pushed by Worcester Bosch) – which translates to gas heating with a hydrogen sticker on it.
Then there is the commitment to phase out fossil fuel heating off the gas grid in new buildings. This is pretty laughable, since obviously they are not powered by gas since it isn’t available, and reduced to almost meaninglessness by the term ‘phase out’.
The Government appears to have been phased by the disinformation campaign against heat pumps wages by gas boiler interests. In fact,
heat pumps should cost little extra to fit in new buildings (compared to gas heating), given that the requisite sizes of heat pumps cost no more than around £1800 from wholesalers. The Government’s message that we have to wait for cost reductions in heat pumps is pretty irrelevant when we are talking about installations in new build properties rather than the retrofit programme that is currently being funded. Heat pumps are most ideally suited for new build as well, and will cut energy consumption by 70 per cent compared to other heating systems.
What we need is a rule that fossil fuel boilers be banned from new buildings. Simple, no caveats, no funny language. But, it seems that’s not going to happen. Instead the vast majority of new build properties will be locked into gas heating for the forseeable future. That is in sharp contrast, of course, to what is happening in Germany and other European countries.
David Toke
Share this page:

Leave a Reply

Discover more from 100% Renewable UK

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading