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Hydrogen may be a bit like Marmite – but love it or hate it... its probably going to happen.

image credit: Photo: John Armstrong
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Chief Operating Officer BPA

John Armstrong is an engineer whose career has spanned the extremes of the energy industry – giving him a front-row seat on the energy roller-coaster. He began his career constructing oil...

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  • May 1, 2020 12:48 pm GMT
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Marmite is one of those things you either love or hate (if you have never tried it - look it up!). I can't stand it and have no idea why anyone would want to ruin a perfectly good piece of toast with it! 

I have recently seen more and more articles about Hydrogen in heating and attended conferences where the potential for our heating in the future to be delivered by Hydrogen is widely discussed. Others suggest through increased electrification and improved efficiency a complex Hydrogen switchover may not be needed. Sandwiched in the middle are those pushing for the middle ground no regrets decisions of energy efficiency and low temperature heat networks.

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32% of Birtians total emissions are from heating

The one thing all agree on is that something must be done to move from the current huge reliance for heating with natural gas. The recent ban on gas boilers from 2025 is a huge step - however what will replace them, remains unclear. Also the ban doesn't address the existing housing stock which remains stubbornly reliant on natural gas!

Proponents of Hydrogen believe it as the ultimate route to zero carbon heating with trials and studies already in full swing. Others such as the Committee for Climate Change see Hydrogen playing a potentially smaller role in the future energy system - focused only on niche sections of energy provision.

 

Hydrogen Network

Recent studies have started to consider the logistics of a switchover to Hydrogen heating and these reports often cite the ease through which moving from town gas (from coal) to methane (from the north sea) was achieved In the sixties. They even suggest a national conversion could be achieved in as little a 4 to 16 years!

However even if you believe that technically its possible there still remains some big challenges to a Hydrogen switchover: Whilst engineers are focused on solving the technical problems its important the social, economic and environmental questions are explored early for example answering the following questions:

  • Who pays for a new Boiler, Cooker, Gas Fire (existing ones simply won't work) in every property? What if a resident wants a nicer looking cooker or fire than on offer?
  • How do we manage needing to switchover large swathes of customers simultaneously? looking after the most vulnerable and limiting disruption.
  • How do you deal with regional pricing (will Hydrogen users pay more or maybe less per Kwhr than natural gas customers or heat pump users?)
  • How will local air quality be managed? (Hydrogen burns hotter so will produce even more NOx than gas boilers do now.

I absolutely believe that engineers will be able to produce a reasonably priced domestic hydrogen boiler and that many of the safety challenges can be overcome. I think the ultimate challenges are yet to be addressed with how to enact a switchover. However I suspect the factors (and others I've not spotted!) will make delivering a move to Hydrogen far harder than is currently foreseen.

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Charley Rattan's picture
Charley Rattan on May 5, 2020

Lots of strategies 'roadmaps' and the like at the moment but, as this article clearly shows, lots of pretty basic challenges still to address.

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