Heat pumps: Kensa Contracting install heaters in Thurrock

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An energy boss has leapt to the defence of Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg after critics attacked his proposed “silver bullet” to the energy crisis. Mike Foster, CEO of the Energy and Utilities Alliance, hailed Mr Rees-Mogg’s support for hydrogen, a clean fuel which Mr Rees-Mogg called a “silver bullet” solution for heating homes as the UK scrambles to wean itself off gas. The Business Secretary claimed that with adjustments, it could be “piped through to people’s houses to heat them during the winter”. While a number of critics have torn him apart for this claim, arguing that it is a worse solution than heat pumps, a gas boiler alternative, Mr Foster has claimed that hydrogen could be one of the most “cost-effective” ways to heat homes. 

Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, Mr Foster said: “We think there is a role for all technologies, heat pumps, heat networks and importantly hydrogen because it is the most cost-effective and least disruptive route for the vast majority of people. 

“You are going to need all three technologies, not just heat pumps. People can’t afford them, let alone all the technical reasons why solely relying on electrification and heat pumps is not the right way. Just on a cost basis and on the basis of the disruption to the consumer, heat pumps are not viable for the vast majority of homes as a route forward.

“The simple truth is that is easier for the consumer to keep their boiler and just change the gas, otherwise tens of millions of households are going to have their boilers ripped out in this quest to electrify heat and be forced to pay £13,000 and they can’t afford it. So change the gas, keep the boiler.”

And as the UK scrambles to reach net zero emissions by 2050, the UK has rule that no new gas boilers can be installed by 2035. While it has a scheme to roll out heat pumps on mass, a carbon-free alternative to gas boilers, it is also assessing other methods to decarbonise heating and the economy, including using hydrogen instead.

If Mr Rees-Mogg’s claims are correct, the energy source could prove to be a vital lifeline as Britain scrambles to wean itself off expensive gas after its vulnerability to volatile international markets was exposed amid the bills crisis. 

While Britain only got four percent of its gas from Russia last year, Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine and his supply cuts to Europe still sent gas prices in the UK soaring as the market is integrated, with suppliers hit and billpayers across the country footing the bill. 

But the Government has pinpointed hydrogen as part of its energy strategy as it looks to cut ties with Russia and strives for independence. It includes an ambitious target of 10 gigawatt of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030 for use of the fuel across the economy. 

Unlike polluting fossil fuels such as natural gas or oil, hydrogen does not emit greenhouse gases when it burns. However, there are various different forms, some of which require natural gas for its production, including grey (which requires the most gas) and blue (which requires some gas) hydrogen. Green hydrogen is produced from electricity generated by renewable sources to electrolyse water. 

But this is currently known to be an inefficient process, with scientists yet to fully crack the code for green hydrogen. To use it in homes, the electricity produced from wind or solar would then need to be converted into hydrogen. Experts say that this process, plus burning the hydrogen at home uses up more energy than heating your home with a heat pump, another gas-free alternative for home-heating. 

David Cebon of the Hydrogen Science Coalition and Professor of Mechanical Engineering in Cambridge University, told the BBC: “In the UK, heating homes with green hydrogen would use approximately six times more renewable electricity than heat pumps

“We do not have the time or resources to waste further investigating hydrogen’s role in home heating, especially when the well-known laws of thermodynamics determine the answer.”

And Prof Cebon is not the only expert who disagrees with Mr Rees-Mogg’s assessment. Jan Rosenow, the director for Europe at the think-tank Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP), published a review of 32 independent studies to determine whether heating homes with hydrogen is a viable solution. 

He said: “Using hydrogen for heating may sound attractive at first glance. However, all of the independent research on this topic comes to the same conclusion: heating with hydrogen is a lot less efficient and more expensive than alternatives such as heat pumps, district heating and solar thermal.”

Michael Liebreich, founder of BloombergNEF, shared the same view. He told Euractiv: No serious analysis has hydrogen playing more than a marginal role in the future of space heating. 

“It’s time to stop the fight: the judges are unanimous, and the winners are district heating, heat pumps and electrification.”

But not all experts hold this view, with many arguing that hydrogen could in fact be blended into the gas grid and used to heat our homes in the future. While the infrastructure to produce hydrogen in large enough amounts is still being developed, scientists have been assessing methods to ‘blend’ hydrogen with natural gas as a way to lower emissions and decarbonise home heating. 

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Meanwhile, heat pumps cost on average around £10,000 but can cost more in some cases, with some households being quoted £13,000 to install the gas-boiler alternative.However, the Government does offer £5,000 grants to help cover part of the installation costs. 

A spokesperson from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has said: “Low-carbon hydrogen could play an important role in helping decarbonising heat in buildings. 

“But the Government has been clear that a decision on this will not be made until 2026, allowing for full consideration of relevant evidence.”

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