This month, I’d really like us all to try and be honest and reasonable in a healthy debate on the future of home heating solutions for the UK.
I find our polarised, divided and tribal world quite exhausting at the moment.
I’m all up for healthy discussions. Having a good-old, healthy debate on something important can be intellectually stimulating and I love to hear everyone’s varying points of view.
I’m a regular listener to the successful podcast, ‘The Rest is Politics’, where the presenters, Alistair Campbell and Rory Stewart “agree to disagree agreeably” in the political debates they have each week.
Campbell being Labour and Stewart being Conservative (although to be fair they both seem to be left of centre, so they tend to agree on many things…apart from Iraq!) … anyway, I digress.
Although ‘polarisation’ and ‘post-truth’ may be dominating the political spectrum, I read recently about an academic institution who train their students about the art of debating by having them take a ‘pro’ stance on a subject they are fundamentally against.
I think this is absolutely fantastic!
Imagine having to research something you were completely against, having to then take a ‘pro’ view on it and then having to defend that position in a debate with your colleagues.
It is a brilliant way of teaching the art of debating and having to see the other side of an argument.
Clear guidance and honesty is needed to avoid confusion for consumers.
The reason I’m saying all of this is there seems to be a mountain of misinformation in the public domain about the future of home heating solutions.
I always try and keep an open mind on the opportunities and possibilities, but in a world of self-interest and misleading information it’s not easy.
I completely get it that there are different types of possible home heating systems and of course there will be different personal views about the best way forward, but there doesn’t seem to be any healthy and honest debating about the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of each option.
Some of the stuff being published in the press, often pushed by powerful lobbying groups with too much self-interest, maybe headline grabbing, but it is often very economical with the truth, and that is me being polite.
Rishi Sunak uses all this as a party-political football to win votes by making out that the country can’t afford to do all this green stuff right now.
At the same time, he is ALSO claiming that even though he is effectively delaying the transition to clean energy, we will somehow still meet our 2050 Legally binding commitments to being Net-Zero.
Really? How can he be so sure?
Oh, and as an aside, Rishi also delayed the ban on NEW petrol and diesel cars from 2030 to 2035. Another daft decision.
Luckily, it looks like the majority of the car industry are going to ignore him and do the right thing by 2030 anyway.
I’m not sure the heating industry will follow suit though and they are likely to continue to install gas boilers in all the retrofit jobs they do until 2035. Thats tragic.
We could have innovated and been ambitious, but Rishi has taken the ‘populist’ step making out that he cares about us so much, he is going to save us all money by not going green yet.
Believe me, the sooner we go green the cheaper the technology will become over the next 10-15 years.
And also going green is a fantastic opportunity for growth in the UK as it will create many more jobs. But, Rishi doesn’t think so.
Can Hydrogen save us?
I’m genuinely staggered about many of the myths and untruths out there that must massively confuse consumers.
So much of the rubbish flying around is simply down to self-interest. It’s not about doing the right thing for consumers or the environment.
Powerful lobbyists for the gas boiler industry, who are worried they face an end to their industry, have been critical of heat pumps and have instead been promoting hydrogen for home heating, claiming they can repurpose their gas boilers to use hydrogen.
Now, if hydrogen is a clean, green energy solution that is good for consumers and the environment and has been proven to be effective in the heating of UK homes, then I’m all ears.
I’m certainly up for learning more about it and it being part of a healthy and honest conversation about what the pros and cons are, but from all of the research I’ve done from reputable sources, I can’t find any strong evidence that hydrogen has been tried and tested and been a success in heating UK homes.
Many studies have found hydrogen to be unsuitable for home heating, as it is expensive, there are issues with its efficiency, and it could pose potential safety problems if used in current gas networks.
What colour is your hydrogen
To make matters worse current sources of hydrogen are very high-carbon – or blue hydrogen, meaning they use a lot of energy in production – producing a lot of carbon in the process!
I’m not saying there isn’t a role for hydrogen and its potential use shouldn’t be ruled out, but it is looking like it is better served using it for heavy industry, shipping, or agriculture, long before we think of using it for Britain’s homes.
We have to be honest and acknowledge that air source heat pumps have been around for many years now and they are a tried and tested form of clean and green home heating that reduces our dependence on fossil fuels.
We know it works when it is designed and installed properly on a domestic property. I have one myself and it works like a dream. This is my honest view based on no self-interest.
Has hydrogen really been tried and tested for the effective heating of domestic homes? The answer is no.
Could it be in the future? Maybe. But, until there is national hydrogen network to replace the gas system it isn’t going to happen.
Is anyone hydrogen ready?
There are so many mixed messages out there and many of them could be described as misleading. I know there are certain gas boiler manufacturers who are claiming that their boilers are ‘hydrogen-prepared’.
From what I can gather, these are regular gas boilers, which are capable of burning a blend of natural gas and 20% hydrogen.
But, this genuinely looks like an attempt to convince consumers that their gas boilers are environmentally friendly.
Even the ‘Competition and Markets Authority’ in May said that marketing new boilers as “hydrogen-ready” or “hydrogen-blend-ready” risked “greenwashing people into thinking these products are more environmentally friendly than they really are”.
I’m amazed that there are so many positive claims about the benefits of hydrogen for domestic home heating when there are no fixed plans at all for supplying a national hydrogen network to replace gas.
And even if there was the potential to have “up to 20% hydrogen mix” in a “hydrogen-ready boiler” it is still burning 80% natural gas! I’m not sure how green that is!
Clear guidance and honesty from the industry is needed to avoid confusion for consumers.
A media blitz with false and misleading claims against heat pumps, funded by an energy trade association that represents and promotes gas boilers and manufacturers, doesn’t seem fair and certainly misleads consumers.
But, on a more positive note to end on, Rishi Sunak did announce that he would raise the grant for heat pumps under the Boiler Upgrade Scheme from £5000 to £7500 from the 23rd of October.
Maybe he likes air source and ground source heat pumps after all.
George Clarke is an architect, writer, TV presenter and Ecodan Ambassador