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Climate change expert says consumers will want to stick with gas

TRANSCRIPT: BBC report on decarbonisation of home heating

BBC News, Saturday, 06/12/2021, BBC RADIO 4, Today Programme, 08:07 am

Jane Steel: “An expert in renewable energy has warned the government that it will be very difficult to shift home heating away from gas. Baroness Brown[1], the deputy chair of parliament’s Climate Change Committee told BBC news that though gas was a huge contributor to the UK’s carbon emissions, people would be reluctant to give it up. Our energy and environment analyst, Roger Harrabin reports.

Roger Harrabin: “Most of Britain’s homes are heated by gas, which emits CO2 when it is burned. That has to change in the shift away from Carbon. The alternatives, hydrogen and heat pumps, are not ideal. Hydrogen is very dear, and Baroness Brown says there won’t be enough of it. Heat pumps are less effective, and can create a lot of disruption. Both systems need homes that are well insulated.[2] Baroness Brown says that the government will need to throw every policy lever in the book to persuade people to change. Her committee recommends that the government spends at least four billion pounds per year into the next decade to tackle the problems. The chancellor has promised only one billion pounds, for next year alone., and nothing thereafter. The government says it will devise a heat strategy soon.”

Broadcast, Saturday, 06/02/2021. BBC Radio 4, Today Programme, 07:13 am.

Martha Karney: “Well, cutting carbon emissions from heating has to be a major part of getting to net zero. It’s something that the government plans to unveil a strategy on in the next few weeks. There are two technologies that are being looked at as a way to phase out gas in our central heating; using hydrogen instead and also electric heat pumps, that work like a fridge in reverse.[3]

“But as Roger Harrabin reports, massive investment to properly insulate our homes will also be required.”

*sound effect – chopping wood*

Roger Harrabin: “Here is how we used to heat our homes.”

*sound effect – open fire*

Roger Harrabin: “Heart warming but inefficient. So wood got the chop. But Coal besmirched the air, so in flew modernity with a *sound effect – gas boiler*. Gas central heating brought a revolution in comfort and it heats most of Britain’s homes. But a new wave of technology is coming now, because heating buildings produces about a fifth of the UK’s emissions.

“So, what will power our showers and warm our homes in winter? The noisiest candidate is hydrogen,[4] it can be extracted from H2O by electrolysis, powered by surplus wind energy.[5] It can mostly travel through existing pipes. It burns without carbon emissions.

“Clare Jackson represents the hydrogen taskforce, a group funded by Shell, BP and the network operator, Cadent.”

Clare Jackson: “potentially a huge role for hydrogen heating. There is a potential to decarbonise the entire gas grid, if we wanted to. “

Roger Harrabin: “If that sounds like a sales pitch , it’s because it is. The home heating market is worth twenty eight billion pounds a year, but professor Julia King from the UK’s advisory climate change committee[6] says there is no way the UK carbon produce enough clean hydrogen from surplus renewable electricity to heat all our homes.

Julia King: “That would be a very expensive solution, we would need something like double the size of the electricity system.[7] So no, I really don’t think that is going to happen.

Roger Harrabin: In fact, the Climate Committee estimates that hydrogen will provide just 11% of home heating, a few per cent will go to schemes that warm districts from waste heat from industry, or with gas from wate tips or slurry pits. But the committee believes most of out heat will come from heat pumps.”

*sound effect – heat pump electric motor*

Roger Harrabin: “That is the faint drone of one at work, using a refrigerator unit in reverse to suck warmth out of the ground or the air or a water course, and concentrate it in your home. They have their downsides, as Clare Jackson from the hydrogen lobby is quick to point out.”

Clare Jackson: “Not all homes in the UK are suitable for heat pumps. And if you fit heat pumps it is about twelve thousand pounds per home. Also, from a sort of consumer perspective hydrogen offers some really good advantages, offers better performance. You are less likely to have a cold home.”

Roger Harrabin: Fitting heat pumps can sometimes be disruptive. You may need bigger radiators, or perhaps a large hole dug in your garden if you have one. But what about that allegation that heat pumps could leave you in the cold?”

*speaking Norwegian*

Roger Harrabin: A question they can answer in Norway., where one in three houses boasts a heat pump.”

*speaking Norwegian*

Roger Harrabin: “At Thor Leckso’s (?) home in Oslo, the children are in shirt sleeves.”

Thor Leckso(?): “Now is the winter time and it is minus eight degrees Celsius, and the temperature outside is warm and cosy”

Roger Harrabin: “But what of it gets colder outside?”

Thor Leckso(?): “Our heat pumps, it is based on a heat source from the ground so it’s quite stable, even if its minus 15 degrees we will still have the same good, warm heating. It’s not affected by the air temperature outside.”[8]

Roger Harrabin: “So, the right heat pump will not leave you shivering. Especially, Professor King says, if you top up the warmth in a cold snap with a hydrogen boiler, a hybrid system, but she wants the government will need to offer big incentives.” [9]

Julia King: “The challenge of buildings is a really huge one, because so many of us now in the UK own our homes, you have to persuade us to put up with disruption, when we have, those of us with gas central heating system, a system that provides a level of comfort that we are familiar with. And its not clear from a very personal point of view, what the advantage of this new system is going to be. So people have really got to take on board the decarbonisation message.”

Roger Harrabin: “And after all that there is still the elephant in the room.”

*sound effect – gas boiler*

Roger Harrabin: “The trusty gas boiler can warm even Britain’s draughty homes, but most heat pumps cannot. So Insulation must improve on a massive scale. The climate committee says four billion pounds of government investment is needed year on year. Starting now. But the Chancellor has offered one Billion pounds for next year. The government declined to comment on the scale of investment required.”

[1] Baroness Brown of Cambridge is Professor Dame Julia King DBE, FRS, FREng, a highly respected engineer and academic.

[2] While heat pumps do require homes to be well insulated, hydrogen could simply replace natural gas, without necessarily improving home insulation.

[3] Electric heat pumps are only low carbon, if they run on low carbon electricity. The would not have sufficient renewable electricity before, at the earliest, 2040.

[4] It is not clear why Roger Harrabin singles out hydrogen as being noisy. For a domestic user, a hydrogen boiler will be functionally identical, and no noisier, than their existing natural gas boiler.

[5] Hydrogen can be produced by electrolysis, but it is not the only method of producing hydrogen at scale.

[6] Professor King is the crossbench peer, Baroness Brown of Cambridge.

[7] Heating our homes by electric powered heat pumps would definitely require a huge increase in electricity supply, and would also face the problem that while gas is easily stored for when it is needed at peak winter demand, electricity is not easily stored,

[8] Many British homes would have an air sourced heat pump. Not a ground source heat pump, and therefore performance may well deteriorate in colder weather.

[9] Hybrid heat pumps would require the existing gas networks to still be maintained, but carrying much lower volumes of gas, this would be much more expensive to operate than the current gas system, and those costs would be passed on to consumers.

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