Strategies for Zero Carbon Heat in Buildings

The Folly of Hydrogen as a Source of Heat in Buildings

An industry group representing heavy carbon emitting industries (such as oil and gas) as well as Carbon Capture and Strorage (CCS) players and hydrogen technology developers has proudly published a report back in July. The “Scottish Cluster” commissioned the report to explore the role of offshore oil and gas industry and on-shore emitters in developing CCS technologies.

Responding to the point in the article where it talks about the role ‘blue hydrogen’ can have in decarbonising the UK economy…

“Converting the UK to a hydrogen economy will be a critical element of the UK meetings its net zero by 2050 target. Hydrogen can be blended to 20% of the natural gas grid before household boilers need to be changed. 35% of the UK’s natural gas comes onshore at St Fergus. Blue hydrogen will be produced from the natural gas with the CO2 created being captured and stored.”

The podcast ‘Zero Ambitions” is worth a listen. The second episode of the podcast ‘Zero Emissions’ was with guest Dr Peter Rickaby, an expert in decarbonising buildings in the UK. Dr Rickaby gives his view at 34 minutes views on using Hydrogen for heating homes.

Hydrogen is good at fuelling industrial processes, big vehicles, …, ships. Hydrogen for heating homes with hydrogen, to me doesn’t make any sense. First of all you have to make your hydrogen from zero carbon electricity; all the other ways of making hydrogen create lots of carbon emissions, so are pointless really. If you use electricity from offshore wind, say, and use it to create hydrogen, you then create it, put it in the gas network and then use it in the boiler at 90% efficiency. You’ve also lost a bit of efficiency along the way in eletrolysing the water to make the hydrogen in the first place. Overall, you get about 62% efficiency compared to what you put in, in energy terms. But why would you do that? Surely you would send the zero carbon electricity straight to the house and use it to drive a heat pump at 250% efficiency. It means you get a much more efficient system overall. So I can’t see hydrogen as a domestic space heating fuel, it just doesn’t seem to make any sense in terms of simple physics.

Some people might choose to disagree with his assessment that the only viable option is electrolysing renewable energy, but I don’t think this takes away his core message, which is: why would we invest (energy) in converting from one fuel type to hydrogen to merely burn the hydrogen at 90% efficiency, when the alternative is to simply supply electricity to the home to run a heat pump at 250% efficiency. A good question and a point well made.

Heat in Buildings Strategy (Scotland)

Meanwhile, back in the real world of actual solutions to decarbonise heating of our buildings…

Launched on 7 October 2021 in Holyrood Parliament by Patrick Harvie. The launch speech was incidentally was the first address in a UK parliament by a Minister who is a member of the Greens Party.

Press release on launch of Heat in Buildings Strategy:

Link to full Heat in Buildings Strategy (PDF):

The headlines from the speech and the document include:

  • Decarbonisation of buildings is an unprecedented challenge
  • We must ensure decarbonisation is done in accordance with a just transition, particularly by ensuring fuel poverty is improved at the same time
  • The total investment required to decarbonise buildings is in excess of £33billion
  • A lot of jobs will be created; 16,400 jobs by 2030
  • All buildings will need to reach EPC band C, framed as a ‘good’ level of energy efficiency, by 2033. Private rented sector has earlier target of 2028.
  • Limit of Holyrood powers under devolution require Westminster Government to also make ambitious changes.

Next month the Scottish Government will release a supply-chain delivery plan. Also next month they will announce a National Public Energy Agency to provide leadership and harness potential of scaled-up heat.

I’ll work through this 155 page document and post further details in coming days and weeks.