The UK needs a better plan to heat its homes than hydrogen

The argument for heating homes with hydrogen instead of natural gas seems dead. In the UK, hydrogen has become an important part of the debate about decarbonising domestic heating. 85 percent of all homes use natural gas for space and water heating, with the oil and gas industry pushing hydrogen as something that can use the existing gas lines. And lawmakers with close ties to industry have claimed hydrogen is a “silver bullet” to help Britain meet its climate targets.

According to a new study by the Regulatory Assistance Project, an NGO, such claims are a big pile of old nonsense. The project conducted an extensive meta-analysis of hydrogen technology research as a whole and found that the promises of an easy retrofit are not realizing. It is not clear whether the existing infrastructure is actually suitable to accommodate hydrogen without major adjustments. That ended up being one of the key selling points for using hydrogen versus switching to heat pumps and other low-carbon methods.

It’s something Engadget already said in its in-depth review of the . However, the suitability of the infrastructure is only part of the problem, as many experts also asked where all the hydrogen came from. Providing the UK with enough hydrogen to heat 85 per cent of its homes without having to reduce demand would require around 10 million tonnes of hydrogen.

In that report, Tim Lord, who was previously responsible for the UK’s decarbonisation strategy, said it would take around 75 gigawatts of offshore wind power to produce that much hydrogen cleanly. The UK government says the country’s total installed offshore wind capacity is just 10 gigawatts. It’s hard to see the economic rationale for installing seven and a half times the total offshore wind capacity just to produce hydrogen.

The Regulatory Assistance Project report also found that attempting to use hydrogen for space heating and hot water is a waste of a vital material. Green hydrogen could be better used in agricultural processes, such as in fertilizer production or in heavy industry. And we have already seen that green hydrogen can play a role in decarbonizing industrial transport such as shipping and rail where mass electrification is not feasible.

In its conclusions, the report adds that a greater emphasis on hydrogen will only serve to delay the adoption of better technologies such as heat pumps. This also has a political dimension reports that hydrogen lobbyists were in power at the recent Labor Party conference and are also expected to attend next week’s Conservative Party conference.

Another, in collaboration with energy analysts Cornwall Insight, found the cost of hydrogen would be nightmarish for consumers. It found that switching from natural gas to hydrogen would likely increase costs by an average of 70 to 90 percent. It also warned that unlike electricity, hydrogen would be subject to the same market volatility as other fossil fuels.

As before, this study raises the question of how much we can rely on hydrogen, given that many of its key needs are still untested. For example, steam reforming of methane would still require carbon capture and storage on a far larger scale than today. (Not to mention the fact that methane is a far more deadly greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, so any leak or accident would be far more damaging to the planet.)

Basically, it seems that based on this and all the other evidence, lawmakers should avoid the expensive diversion of hydrogen in favor of full electrification. That, as we’ve already mentioned, would lead to a significant and rapid reduction in emissions (and give the economy a timely boost).

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