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Gas Safety Week 2020: Decarbonising by 2050

Alternatives to gas as we aim to meet the net zero target

During Gas Safety Week, it seems an appropriate time to look beyond the use of gas to heat our homes in the context of the Climate Change Act, which has set a target for the UK to be carbon neutral by 2050.

That may be 30 years away from now but when you consider that around 22 million homes in the UK are currently using gas boilers as their main source of heating and hot water, it’s going to require a huge operation to switch to greener energy sources.

That’s why the UK government has set some interim targets along the way to try to meet this pledge. New build houses will no longer be connected to the gas grid by 2025 – just 5 years from now, and all installations must be low carbon by 2035.

While these steps will help by ensuring that all new installations work towards lowering our emissions, what is the future for gas boilers that are already in use and does this mean that existing boilers will need to be replaced with alternatives?

Don’t worry, you’re not going to have to rip out your boiler any time soon. While some technology exists that could offer a more environmentally sound solution, there is a great deal of research and development going on at the moment that should offer some alternatives for gas boilers in the future. So, what are these alternatives?

Alternatives to gas boilers

While really good progress has been made, and we have exceeded some targets around the amount of electricity generated from renewable sources, it would seem that we still have a lot of ground to make up with regard to how we heat our homes.

There are a few alternatives to gas when it comes to heating your home. Some are already quite established while some are in development and require large infrastructure changes to be viable. Here is an overview of green heating systems that we will all need to start thinking about at some point.

Electricity

Boilers that produce all their heat from electricity already exist and while they don’t produce carbon emissions while in use, there are still a few reasons why they are not a completely green solution yet. Firstly, if the electricity used to power them is produced by burning fossil fuel, it offsets the fact that the boiler itself does not. Electricity is also more expensive than gas and, at the moment, electric boilers cannot produce the same amount of hot water that a gas boiler can. This means they are not always suitable for larger properties.

Renewable Energy

Renewable energy measures are becoming increasingly accessible to domestic properties. Solar energy, ground source and air source heat pumps offer an environmentally sound source of energy as they make use of naturally occurring heat. Subsidies for renewable energy made these solutions grow in popularity, but these ended several years ago. However, it is likely that they will be eligible for the new Green Homes Grant that will cover up to two thirds of costs from September, though few details have been released yet.

Hydrogen

Hydrogen boilers have been tipped as the most likely solution to replace gas boilers. Hydrogen produces no emissions and creates only water vapour and heat. It is also more efficient than gas with 1KG of hydrogen containing the same amount of energy as 2.8KG of gas.

The issues, currently, lie with infrastructure as it may not be a viable option to reuse the existing grid system. Hydrogen is also highly flammable, so some work is required to find a safe way of using it in domestic properties.

Many experts believe that the best solution will be some kind of hybrid between all these options and the exact solution may be determined on a house by house basis.

How we’re preparing for net zero emissions

As gas engineers, we are all too aware that gas boilers have a limited life span, even if that‘s not going to happen for a few years yet. We will be required to be able to work on whatever alternatives are being installed in new builds from 2025 and we want to do our bit for reducing carbon emissions as well.

We are currently planning for the future, including engaging in some training on hydrogen boilers so that we make sure our engineers can transfer their skills when the time comes. We’ll talk more abut this as our knowledge and skills development and as more guidance is forthcoming from the government and industry bodies.

See all the blogs for Gas Safety Week so far here.

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