Will Electricity or Hydrogen Replace Gas As A Fuel? - Climastar
Will Electricity or Hydrogen Replace Gas As A Fuel - by Climastar

Will Electricity or Hydrogen Replace Gas As A Fuel?

In this article we will debate the question; will electricity or hydrogen replace gas as a fuel in the relatively near term future?

Table of contents:

    The End of Fossil Fuels?

    Did you know that heating our homes produces a third of greenhouse gases in the UK? Back in 1970, just a third of our homes had central heating. Today, 95% of our homes are centrally heated, and the vast majority of us rely on gas or oil.

    As gas and oil are both fossil fuels, they release carbon dioxide, a  gas that is thought to contribute to climate change.

    In fact, most carbon dioxide emissions come from burning fossil fuels. Heating contributes to 30% of the UK’s total greenhouse emissions. Furthermore, about half of this comes from heating our homes.

    So what does that mean for the future?

    The UK government has set a legal target of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to reduce carbon emissions dramatically. With less than 30 years to go, it’s clear that the UK may not meet it without a complete change in home heating technology and fuel.

    But how can we do this?

    Here in the UK, the most effective way to reduce our emissions is to use alternatives to fossil fuels for heating.

    One solution from the UK government is that no new homes built after 2025 will use gas boilers. The Future Homes Standard aims to ensure new properties release up to 80% fewer CO2 emissions than those built today. Even though this will only apply to new build homes, eventually, gas as a fuel will be phased out completely.

    Therefore, there are big decisions to make on how we heat our homes.

    What Will Replace Gas Boilers

    There are many scientists, researchers and engineers working on alternative green fuels and technologies to replace fossil fuels. Starting from 2025, low carbon heating systems will be installed in all new build homes. These alternative systems will include heat pumps, heat networks, hydrogen and direct electric heating.

    Hydrogen Boilers

    A hydrogen ready boiler is a gas heating boiler which is capable of burning either natural gas or pure hydrogen.

    In theory, a hydrogen boiler can fit into a current boiler’s space without too much disruption.

    It’s designed to run effectively on natural gas, but can convert to hydrogen without the need for an entirely new heating system. The idea is that this will save millions of people from having to rip out their gas boilers and replace them.

    In fact, some boiler manufacturers including Worcester Bosch are already producing hydrogen ready boilers.

    However, these boilers have the potential to burn 20% hydrogen and 80% gas. It’s a start, but this may not provide a big enough change to hit carbon emission targets within 30 years.

    Heat Pumps

    A heat pump is a recent technology which performs the same function as a boiler. It generates heat in order to produce hot water for your home. The heat pump extracts the heat from the ground or air, then uses it to heat an element which transfers the heat to a coolant.

    The coolant is compressed until it reaches a high enough temperature that it can heat your home.

    Heat pumps only need a small amount of electricity to run and can extract heat in temperatures as low as -15˚C hence they can provide heating all year round. But they are less efficient in colder weather. Furthermore, heat pumps can last a lot longer than a gas boiler.

    There is thought amongst the industry recently that infra-red heating can be a more efficient alternative to heat pumps, and can also be considerably cheaper in some circumstances.

    Heat Networks

    Heat networks, otherwise known as district heating, are distribution systems that can be used to deliver heat from a central source to several nearby buildings.

    They work by supplying heat from a central source to consumers, via a network of underground pipes carrying hot water.

    Heat networks can cover a large area or even an entire city, or be fairly local supplying a small cluster of buildings. This avoids the need for individual boilers or electric heaters in every building.

    The central heat source is often referred to as ‘the energy centre’.

    Heat is brought into each building through a ‘heat exchanger’ which, for a residential connection, is about the same size as a small gas boiler. All the same heating controls are available to the homeowners without the need for any combustion to take place inside the building. While this offers safety benefits in this regard – there is the concern that if the “energy centre” is out of action for any period of time, the entire network and it’s community goes without heating.

    Electric Heating

    Electric heating is a well established, low carbon heating technology that produces no emissions at the point of use. Therefore, using an efficient electric heating system could play a big part in reducing your carbon emissions as a homeowner. Many homes and commercial premises are turning to electric radiators for this reason.

    Hydrogen v Electric Heating

    The gas industry and the government are investing millions of pounds to see if the UK’s existing gas grid can be converted to run on hydrogen.

    Although converting gas boilers into hydrogen-ready boilers appears to be a good idea, there are risks and uncertainties to this. For example;

    • There is nowhere in the world that supplies pure hydrogen to homes and businesses. Hence, if converting the entire gas network to hydrogen did go ahead, the UK would be the first country to try it.
    • The interests in using hydrogen to heat homes began only a few years ago in 2016, whereas electric heating for homes has been around for many years.
    • Hydrogen is not found on Earth in a pure state. It has to be extracted from other substances, such as methane. Therefore, the extraction itself creates carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Exactly what the government is trying to reduce. It means that large scale carbon capture technology will need to be developed to prevent it escaping into the atmosphere. Thus this could push the costs of the fuel up. In comparison, electric heating doesn’t produce any carbon dioxide at the point of use.
    • A full scale supply chain for green hydrogen is not likely to be up and running for decades. Whereas electricity is available now.
    • There is a risk of installing a gas boiler with the promise that gas will later turn into e-methane or hydrogen. What if there is not enough hydrogen to go round? Then the homeowners will have to continue to rely on fossil fuels or change their heating systems again.

    The Climate Impact Research Report

    According to researchers from Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the UK shouldn’t rely on hydrogen for heating homes as it’s too uncertain.

    Even if gas boilers are changed into hybrid boilers within the next 30 years, there might not be enough hydrogen or e-fuel for everyone. The report advises that e-fuel and hydrogen should be reserved for industry, rather than for heating homes at this stage.

    The report goes on to say that sensible climate policy supports e-fuel and hydrogen deployment while hedging against the risk of its unavailability at large scale. Basically, this means that there might not be enough to go round.

    Furthermore, even though Hydrogen is one of the most abundant elements, producing so called ‘green hydrogen’ is expensive and requires a lot of electricity.

    In summary, the report concludes that e-fuels and hydrogen should be prioritised for sectors that can’t use direct electrification.

    Even producing enough hydrogen for industries such as shipping, aviation, long distance flight and steel production will be enough of a challenge.

    Whereas for homeowners, the author of the report recommends using electricity directly as it is cheaper and greener at present than hydrogen.

    Electric Heating at Home

    Thanks to modern design and technology, efficient electric heating is far more advanced than you may think. In fact, electric heating has been around for many years and became popular in the post world war era due to portable heaters and night storage tariffs.

    Nowadays, smart electric heating is far more sophisticated. Efficient electric radiators heat up using an internal heating element.

    They don’t need to be attached to pipes and they don’t need a central boiler system to work. An electric radiator can be 100% efficient because the heat doesn’t need to travel anywhere to reach it.

    Furthermore, efficient electric heating doesn’t produce any harmful emissions at the point of use. So if you use an electric heating system in your home, you are not contributing greenhouse gases or CO2 into the atmosphere directly.

    Another benefit is that electricity is already there to use directly from the grid or your own home power generation methods. You don’t need to store any fuel or wait for it to be delivered.

    If you live remotely and you are not connected to the mains gas network, then an efficient electric heating system is a great, cleaner alternative.

    How Much Does Electric Heating Cost

    Initially, the upfront cost of low carbon electric heating systems can be high. However, they can also be cheaper and more efficient on your electric consumption to run than fossil fuel systems.

    For example, because a smart electric heating system is 100% efficient, you are not losing any heat. Every kilowatt of energy is transferred into heat and released into a room. You are only using what you need.

    Even the best A rated gas boiler is about 94% efficient. So you are also paying for the 6% of gas which is being wasted – and there’s also the hidden cost of gas to consider with maintenance, and other costs attributed.

    In the long run, an efficient electric heating system can save on your electricity consumption, and ultimately can save money on your bills.

    Furthermore, all electric heaters have the advantage that they are as green as your electricity supply. Hence if you use a renewable electricity tariff, your efficient electric heating system effectively generates zero carbon emissions.

    Why Choose Climastar

    There are many different options for how we can heat our homes in the UK, but if we are to achieve the proposed government target of net zero emissions by 2050, the clock is ticking.

    Therefore it makes sense to choose an electric heating system from a company that has been pioneering modern and efficient heating systems for over a quarter of a century.

    Climastar UK is committed to the development and production of the most efficient and controllable electrical heating available.

    The new Harmony heating range is exclusive to the UK. Each heater reduces your energy consumption by quickly heating rooms and only using energy when you need it.

    Moreover, if you connect your Harmony Heater to smart technology, you can have complete control over your home heating system. Hence you can set each heater to come on or off according to your heating needs.

    Harmony heaters use a combination of convected and radiant heat to warm your home faster and maintain the set temperature almost perfectly, no matter what the weather is like outside. By combining each heater with Wi-fi and wireless, you can control your efficient electric heating in real time from your smartphone.

    Therefore you are completely in control of your costs and your comfort. There are no big bill surprises at the end of the month.

    If you are in control of your heating, you can also reduce your energy consumption. Thereby personally cutting your household’s CO2 emissions and contributing to the UK’s zero carbon target.

    Conclusion

    The average UK home heating system emits 2.25 tons of carbon dioxide per year. According to the Climate Change Committee, the UK government’s plans are as yet, not enough to decarbonise all 29 million homes.

    As well as this, the plans to potentially convert the natural gas network to hydrogen may not yet be achievable. It is more efficient to deliver renewable electricity sources, which is already available, directly into homes.

    Your household may use heat differently to your neighbour. You might live in a 5 bedroom detached house or a 1 bedroom flat. Maybe you are now working from home permanently and need a warm office, or your family are out all day at school.

    Each household has different heating needs, but each one can reduce their carbon emissions. An easy way to start is by switching to an  efficient electric heating system.

    Climastar offer a free home survey and you can talk to their heating experts about what you need in your home and how to reduce your carbon emissions.

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