How has the industry responded to the decarbonisation plans for the UK?
The 2020 budget report stated plans for the carbon from UK homes to be “virtually zero” in just thirty years. So what does this mean for the current gas industry?
With most of the UK’s homes using gas for heating, could 23 million homes be removed from the gas grid? And can it be done soon enough to stop further negative impact on the planet?
Like anything, it is about supply and demand. As the demand for lower carbon heating increases, manufacturers have to offer an alternative to gas boilers.
Though the government can set out goals for reducing the UK’s carbon output, homeowners must be on board to make a real difference.
And with several stumbling blocks, how will we achieve decarbonisation of the UK’s heating industry?
Some of the biggest names in the industry are already developing and manufacturing gas boiler alternatives, and hydrogen is tipped to be the next big thing in heating. With the only by-product being water, it’s an eco-friendlier alternative to the gas we currently use to heat our homes.
Worcester Bosch, one of the UK’s leading suppliers and manufacturers of gas boilers, released their hydrogen-ready prototype in 2020. A UK first, the boiler runs on natural gas, but if the time comes to switch to hydrogen energy, an engineer can convert it within just one hour.
“The development of hydrogen-fired boilers will mean the millions of heating systems that will already be installed can be utilised rather than replaced. We are proud to be at the forefront of this exciting new technology.” (Source: Worcester Bosch)
Worcester Bosch leads the way to a cleaner future and recommends the government stipulate that all new boilers should be hydrogen-ready in just four years. (Source: BBC)
In doing so, homeowners can easily switch to a hydrogen-ready boiler when their existing boiler needs replacing. And, at very little extra expense, there’ll be no strain on the purse strings.
Although Hydrogen is looking to be the key to decarbonisation, there are still questions surrounding it. And with the jury still out, we need to continue to research and develop other alternatives.
And professionals in the industry agree. A recent poll on Twitter found that 32.8% of engineers believe heat pumps will replace gas.
— Options Skills (@OptionsSkills) January 14, 2021
That said, further discussion found that most engineers believe we will require a combination of the above and more to heat the nation suitably.
Ideal Heating has been part of the industry for over 100 years. They’ve seen it grow and develop rapidly throughout that time and, like many engineers, recognise that heating the nation won’t be a one-size-fits-all situation.
“In the short term, that means electrification and heat pumps, and longer-term, changes to the gas supply in the form of a hydrogen blend and potentially, 100% hydrogen. Our long-term vision is to continue to support our customers regardless of fuel source and to ensure a collaborative approach to the energy transition.” (Source: Ideal)
As well as their boiler range, Ideal Heating, are due to release their first air-to-water heat pump this year, and a full product line is currently in development to keep up with the demand for heating alternatives.
Ideal isn’t alone in this, with Worchester and Vaillant also appreciating the need for a range of products.
Vaillant understands that requirements vary from home to home and produce a wide range of heating options to suit.
“As a manufacturer, taking on the challenge of decarbonisation of heat has formed an important part of our forward plans, so this aspiration is well received. We have invested heavily in developing both our heat pump solutions and our hydrogen boiler offering, all of which will allow us to offer an agnostic approach to decarbonising homes; where the right system is fitted to suit the property. Heat pumps, hydrogen boilers and hybrid systems will all have their part to play here. ”
– Mark Wilkins, Head of Training and External Affairs at Vaillant Group (Source: Vaillant)
Vaillant currently produces heat pumps, including air, ground, water source, and solar thermal hot water solutions. And, as we move towards decarbonising the UK, Vaillant is consistently developing their technology and products.
“Equally, whilst heat pumps suit new build and many off-grid homes, hydrogen boilers are a part of the puzzle that cannot be forgotten. Attacking natural gas is always going to be a headline grabber, but what this latest announcement does do [reducing emissions by 68% by 2030] is start to lay firmer foundations for the uptake of hydrogen blends as one of the simpler ways to start decarbonising the millions of ‘on-gas’ homes around the UK. (Source: Vaillant)
The Prime Minister’s 20 Point Plan and Energy White Paper Report stated that they aim for 600,000 heat pump installations each year by 2028.
To achieve these numbers, the government and the heating industry will need to work together to invoke confidence in the public regarding choosing heat pumps over gas boilers.
In 2020, engineers installed 1.7 million boilers throughout the UK. In comparison, we installed 30,000 heat pumps. (Source: Thermal Earth) Overall, there are currently around 250,000 heat pumps in operation in the UK. (Source: Statista)
So, while we are making progress, the public needs to be encouraged and incentivised to move away from gas boilers, and towards electric boilers, heat pumps, hydrogen and solar.
To do so, they need to make these alternatives practical, realistic, and, most notably, affordable for much of the population.
All of them have their pros and cons. What works for one person’s home may not work for another, but affordability is a unifying factor.
And though the government do offer incentives for renewable energy, are they enough?
Industry Response To Decarbonisation
The industry is responding to changing plans and goalposts with optimism.
Brands, manufacturers and engineers alike are taking these developments on as exciting challenges rather than seeing them as a hindrance.
Manufacturers are relishing the chance to develop and create new and exciting technology that will heat the nation in a more eco-friendly way, with their customers’ varying requirements being at the forefront of any project.
It seems that having these eco-friendly heating options available won’t be a problem, but implementing them may well be.
While the industry can do everything it can, the government will need to support the industry and homeowners alike with grants and investment to ensure homes all across the UK can be part of decarbonising the nation.