It’s great to see today’s report led by the CBI and University of Birmingham - Net Zero: The Road to Low-Carbon Heat -
continuing to put our future energy choices in the spotlight.
As one of the contributors to this report, we have long recognised that to achieve decarbonisation across the UK continuing to burn fossil gas to heat our homes is just not an option.
As Professor Martin Freer, one of the authors of the report, puts it: "Delivering decarbonisation of heating is the biggest energy challenge we face in getting to net-zero.” Heat is the largest single source of UK carbon emissions, accounting for over one-third of them. Half of this comes from our homes, the majority of which are heated by fossil gas.
With 83% of the UK’s households connected to the gas grid, there is a huge element of familiarity with, and dependence on, gas. Customers simply expect it to work all the time, and it does. It is flexible enough to respond to sudden spikes in demand and provides most of this country’s winter heat so replacing it won’t be easy.
This is why we have been leading innovation and research to identify credible alternatives. For example, using low and zero carbon gases, such as hydrogen and biomethane, that will keep people safe and warm through our coldest winters.
And we are not alone in this. We are collaborating closely with other energy networks, through the Energy Networks Association, and other stakeholders to deliver the Gas Goes Green
initiative to achieve a net zero transition for the gas network.
In conjunction with Keele University, Northern Gas Networks and a consortium of technical experts, Cadent is leading the HyDeploy
project – the first time that zero-carbon hydrogen has been injected into a UK gas network to be used for fuelling homes and businesses.
The project is demonstrating that a blend of up to 20% hydrogen to 130 homes and businesses, using conventional fossil gas boilers, is as safe and effective as natural gas.
Across Britain, even a blend of 20% hydrogen would save six million tonnes of carbon dioxide – equivalent to taking 2.5 million cars off the road.
Blending would also open the door to higher quantities of hydrogen in the gas network – ultimately up to 100%, kick off the hydrogen supply chain and get consumers familiarised with the fuel.
One of the steps the government could take right now is to amend policy to support this blending technology to be adopted across the UK, as well as encouraging hydrogen as an energy source to decarbonise industry, and for use in power generation and transport.
While many experts, including the Committee on Climate Change, have pointed out that hydrogen is essential if we are to reach net zero, it is not the only technology that will help us decarbonise heat. As the CBI report rightly points out, other net-zero compatible technologies will play a vital role, too, including air source and ground source heat pumps, which are powered by electricity, hybrid systems, incorporating both electricity and gas, and district heat networks.
Whichever technologies we choose we must ensure they are affordable and available for everyone. We are glad to see that the report recognises that before fossil gas boilers are taken off the market, other credible alternatives must be available, especially when decisions have to be taken, potentially under distress, to make a change to a home’s heating system.
We would all agree that it is simply not acceptable for any home, especially the most vulnerable households, being unable to replace a broken gas boiler when it fails in the middle of winter.
The UK’s Net Zero target means we must have a plan for every home not just incentives to encourage a few. We therefore welcome the main conclusions from the report which recommend establishing a body to oversee the transition of our heating systems, supporting communities and individuals, and delivering a plan built around robust and pragmatic principles. Through this type of approach we can ensure we decarbonise our heating at least cost and with the least disruption to us all.