The sale of new gas boilers for home heating is due to be banned from new build properties in 2025, and natural gas boilers eventually phased out. The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that no new fossil fuel boilers should be sold from 2025 net-zero emissions are to be achieved by the middle of this century.
With a domestic gas market worth £28 billion a year, oil and gas suppliers and boiler manufacturers are of course looking for alternative ways to stay in business.
The use of ‘blue’ hydrogen fuel is the current favourite, a process that splits the naturally occurring gas at high temperatures. Although carbon emissions are still produced during the process, they can be captured and stored using carbon capture and storage. In addition, methane is produced through fracking for natural gas and further emissions created through gas exploration and its transport.
The industry body, Hydrogen Taskforce, which is funded by companies including Shell, BP and network operator Cadent, wants heating boilers to be made ‘hydrogen ready’ by 2025 and hydrogen mixed with natural gas to reduce overall emissions, although this would mean the UK continuing to be locked into the use of fossil fuels.
Although blue hydrogen is better for the environment than natural gas, it is not zero-carbon, and a climate think tank that includes Greenpeace, E3G and the WWF has written to the government urging it to drop funding. The letter has been sent to the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, whose department is due to publish a hydrogen strategy very soon.
The Climate Change Committee estimates that in some areas of the UK just 11% of homes will eventually use ‘blue’ hydrogen for home heating, while many areas will use wind energy to produce ‘green’ hydrogen. Green hydrogen is relatively expensive to produce and comes from using surplus wind generated electricity that releases hydrogen from water using electrolysis and can be used to store energy.
However, environmentalists want ‘green’ hydrogen to be reserved for industrial use, rather than in homes, where it believes heat pumps will be more effective at providing energy efficiency.
For the time being, there is no complete gas boiler ban in the UK and homeowners do not yet have to replace their boiler with a low-carbon alternative for home heating. This is likely to change by the mid-2030s, so if you’re looking at updating your home’s heating system it’s worth looking at green alternatives now rather than replacing your gas boiler like for like.
A Clean Heat Grant is planned from 2022, to support the installation of heat pumps, which are suitable for homes with an outdoor space. Heat pumps are low-carbon heating systems that work by extracting heat from the air or ground, working like a fridge in reverse to create heat for your home.
For a heat pump to be effective, your home needs to be well insulated and have lower temperature heating systems, such as underfloor heating. Heat-pump radiators operate at a much lower temperature so are not so suitable for use in some older houses, which tend to have poorer insulation, but with larger radiators and improved insulation a heat pump can bring even an older house to a comfortable temperature.
At the moment, heat pumps are expensive to install compared to a gas boiler but with financial incentives it’s worth considering when it comes to updating your home heating system.