Hydrogen Needs More Government Support

Hydrogen Needs More Government Support

For net zero to be successful in the UK many feel hydrogen needs more government support. Hydrogen is perceived as the simplest, fastest and most cost-effective method for reducing carbon emissions from UK building stock prior to the 2050 net zero deadline. While the focus on heat pumps (ASHP) has captured the headlines as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels they currently have their limitations in terms of delivering effective heating in legacy structures and high-temperature hot water required for commercial applications. Work continues at pace to improve the seasonal coefficient of performance (SCOP) and water temperatures required to meet commercial building standards on construction projects, but it is recognised across the industry that heat pumps alone cannot service all commercial low-carbon demands at a meaningful installation and operational price. Therefore many, especially those dealing with property refurbishment, are looking to hydrogen to fill the deficit.

Despite the calls for action, the government has not as yet made any firm commitments beyond the initial investment in research to understand the potentiality of hydrogen as an alternative to natural gas supplies.

Now, UK ministers have offered up a plan for considering all new domestic boilers be ‘hydrogen-ready’ from 2026. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has made a statement announcing with BEIS says such a strategy will reduce replacement costs but cautions there is no guarantee homes will ultimately run on the gas. The announcement also does not offer clarity on the types of boilers, but the expectation is that the ministerial consultation will focus on 100% hydrogen-ready boilers. These appliances are supplied as standard condensing natural gas boilers that can be easily refitted with a hydrogen-compliant burner in the future when 100% hydrogen supplies become available through the gas grid.

This follows the announcement of a ban on gas boilers in new homes that comes into force in 2025, although uncertainty remains over the timeframe for the phase-out of fossil gas in existing homes. A commercial ban on boilers in new builds is still set to come into play in 2035, which better aligns with the initial rollout of hydrogen services, with a blend of just 20%. Most early recipients of hydrogen blend are expected to be heavy industrial users and potentially the commercial space. Hence BEIS’ careful response about whether homes would even benefit from the installation of hydrogen-ready boilers, especially in the period from 2026 to 2040.

The consultation, which closes in late March, argues that the strategy will reduce ‘the costs associated with scrapping natural gas-only boilers before the end of their useful life. Mandating hydrogen-ready boilers will give the industry the confidence to prepare supply chains to ensure the benefits of the potential transition are maximised,” officials said.

Hydrogen needs more government support if it is expected to play a significant role in the decarbonisation of heavy industry and the transport network.  But opinion remains split on the practicality of using it in Britain’s gas network and the resulting cost to households and businesses. The consultation is aimed at also delivering confidence that consumers will not face a   premium for their purchase of hydrogen-ready boilers.

Adveco remains a strong proponent for replacing natural gas with hydrogen blends and then finally a truly green 100% hydrogen supply at a national level. Considerable technical and capital investment will be required to transform existing infrastructure, which we do not see occurring in the short term. With full ministerial support and investment, hydrogen would form a considerable portion of the technical delivery of net zero during the 2040s in advance of the 2050 deadline. Instigation of early bans on gas-fired boilers is likely to be counterproductive unless purchase costs remain on par with current appliances as we firmly believe most units purchased through the mid-2020s will never see conversion to hydrogen use, especially domestically. Better to commit to 20% blend projects and clarify that the current generation of gas appliances whether domestic or commercial must show the capability to burn the blended gas. Most, such as Adveco’s AD and MD ranges, already can without requiring any form of burner adaptation. This also has the advantage of countering claims of triallists being used as ‘lab rats’ for hydrogen rollout. The announcement of ministerial consideration may start to redress the lack of investment in the technology, as we have noted hydrogen needs more government support, but once again the focus is being placed on voter-friendly domestic responses, rather than addressing the considerable issue of carbon emissions from commercial buildings where arguably organisations are better positioned to make a difference starting today.

Read more about our hydrogen future here

Gas & Sustainable Buildings

The UK commercial sector is still very much in the early process of adapting to more sustainable working, with many still reliant on fossil fuels. Despite the calls to change to more renewable forms of energy many are continuing to refit with familiar gas technology, so what is the current state of play between gas and sustainable buildings?

Decarbonising UK commercial properties is an immense challenge. They are directly responsible for nearly one-fifth of the UK’s carbon emissions and, since domestic hot water (DHW) can account for as much as a third of a business’s routine energy demands, addressing emissions from hot water generation should be on an organisation sustainability agenda.

In response there are two broad UK-wide strategies: either installation of heat pumps to drive electrification, or, for properties on the existing gas network, switch over to hydrogen as a low-carbon alternative to natural gas.

In 2020 according to the Department for Business, Energy, & Industry Strategy (BEIS) more than 1,656,000 non-domestic buildings in England and Wales, the large majority of which were connected to the gas grid, were consuming more than 172 TWh of gas. The number of commercial properties is set to continue to grow, and though these new builds are opting for electric-only applications, existing buildings face a number of issues, not least the capital expenditure required to modernise services and the increased operational costs from implementation.

For this reason, unlocking the potential of hydrogen represents a familiar, easier and more cost-effective way to transition to more sustainable heating practices in buildings. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), recently estimated Hydrogen will cover up to 12% of global energy demand by 2050 from virtually nothing today. At least two-thirds of total production will be green hydrogen (produced with renewable electricity) with the remainder covered by blue hydrogen production (derived from natural gas) so long as the carbon capture and storage (CCS) is proved viable.

In the UK, the status of hydrogen remains to be confirmed as part of the government’s push towards attaining net zero by 2050. The Heating and Buildings Strategy published in late 2021 does, however, give an indication of the growing support for hydrogen-based technologies, as does continued government investment in its feasibility. Hydrogen, as a result, is increasingly seen as a core shift in the energy trade and critically, in the wake of demands to reduce dependency on Russian oil and gas, the future for regionalisation of energy supply.

Currently, when comparing average non-domestic gas to electricity tariffs, electricity will cost as much as four and a half times that of gas, making gas the more cost-effective option. Yet it fails to deliver a clear investment in sustainability unless hydrogen is used to decarbonise. That also comes with a number of advantages given the equipment remains familiar to operate and manage. It should ensure capital costs remain lower, while decarbonisation can be accelerated within a property.

For those wishing to adopt the hydrogen approach, there remains a question mark over how quickly, where and in what proportion hydrogen will be introduced into the gas grid. With the ultimate aim of introducing 100% green hydrogen via the existing gas network, gas water heaters and boilers will need to be factory configured to burn hydrogen only. Or be hydrogen-ready, whereby natural gas-compliant appliances can be converted to operate on hydrogen only in the future. These appliances, with the exception of some regional test deployments of hydrogen, are not expected to be actively used with 100% hydrogen until well into the 2030s at the earliest, with a potential national roll-out predicted for the 2040s.

As an interim, the UK is assessing the potential for introducing hydrogen into the existing gas network as a blend at 20% volume to deliver a safer, greener gas alternative that reduces carbon emissions. A blended gas grid has the potential to become a reality by the late 2020s, enabling organisations to become used to working with hydrogen as an energy source with less disruption and no noticeable change in how gas is used within the property.

Can gas & sustainable buildings still co-exist?

For commercial organisations which have recently invested in, or plan to refurbish, existing non-hydrogen-ready gas appliances, the most recent condensing gas-fired models currently on the market should already be able to burn natural gas with a blend of up to 20% hydrogen without requiring any modification.

For example, Adveco’s current ranges of high efficiency, ultra-low emission gas-fired condensing water heater, the instantaneous ADplus and semi-instantaneous AD, as well as the MD boiler range, are all hydrogen 20% blend ready. Such appliances give customers peace of mind when investing in gas-fired water heating applications. With the latest generation of gas water heaters and boilers offering more rugged construction and technology that better manages operation the working life of the appliance is further extended, meaning if purchased today they should continue to operate well into the 2030s. As hydrogen blending becomes commonplace, this then delivers on the desire to decarbonise operations in the easiest and most cost-effective manner as a business user. When these require replacement a wider choice of more advanced, proven and lower-cost hydrogen-ready and 100% hydrogen appliances for commercial applications will be available on the market as the gas network matures and greens.

Gas-fired commercial water heating, therefore, remains a proven and future-proof choice for the working lifespan of current-generation appliances. Not only practical and lower cost to operate, these also deliver a way to introduce a degree of sustainability in the interim before hydrogen can make a real impact so gas and sustainable buildings will develop hand in hand.

With modern building regulations, it is likely that a commercial hot water system, whether it uses gas or electricity, will still also require a low-carbon preheat source to reduce carbon emissions. For properties with an existing gas connection employing solar thermal can be extremely effective in reducing reliance on the existing gas boiler, cutting as much as 30% of the annual energy demands for water heating.

Fortunately, solar thermal also lends itself to working in conjunction with not only conventional or blended gas heating but also other renewable technologies including air source heat pumps. This enables a variety of bespoke, hybrid applications to be considered to meet the varied demands of existing commercial buildings.

Despite the reliance on fossil fuel, the latest generation of gas water heaters and boilers provide a realistic and lower cost option for organisations already connected to the gas grid to leverage technology that offers higher efficiency operation for lower energy consumption and critically ultra-low carbon and NOₓ emissions. Through integration with renewables, they offer a way to further reduce a building’s energy demands and emissions today, as well as the potential to act as a gateway technology to future greener hydrogen blend energy sources at no further cost.  For the next decade or so, they still have an important role to play meaning gas & sustainable buildings will remain a reality, especially if gas supplies can successfully transform from its fossil fuel origins to green hydrogen.

Adveco December 2022 newsletter

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