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Committee on Climate Change publishes hydrogen heat review

Influential UK body has issued new findings that find a credible role for hydrogen as part of wider low carbon heat and energy strategy

The independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has published a new report on the role that hydrogen can play as part of a wider approach to realising lower carbon heat. The organisation has also set out a number of challenges that need to be overcome in order to ensure the gas can be a viable alternative to existing approaches.

New findings from the group, which provides feedback and research to inform government policy, concluded that adoption of the gas alone will not serve as a ‘silver bullet’ solution to reducing carbon emissions, despite its potential to reshape approaches to heating and energy.

Core conclusions from the new findings suggest therefore that hydrogen can replace natural gas “in parts of the energy system”, especially where electrification is viewed as prohibitively expensive or technically unfeasible.

The report stated, “Based on new modelling, our assessment is now that heat pumps offer the potential to provide heat efficiently for most of the time, with hydrogen boilers contributing mainly to meet peak demands on the coldest winter days.”

The CCC added that hydrogen can play a vital role as a component in a longer-term decarbonisation plan that also focuses on ensuring greater energy efficiency in buildings and their key systems, as well as increased electrification of transport and greater uptake of hybrid heat pumps systems.

The report said, “A combination of energy efficiency and electrification based on zero-carbon electricity can take the UK a great deal of the way towards near-full decarbonisation of the whole energy system.”

“But it is a strategy that, alone, is not enough. Producing hydrogen in low-carbon ways and using it to meet challenging demands (e.g. for heat in industrial processes, for heating buildings on colder winter days and for heavy transport) is likely to be an important part of the next stage of the UK’s energy transition.”

Main recommendations

The report has set out a series of key commitments that the CCC believes will be required to realise hydrogen’s potential, with government being asked to commit to developing a strategy for realising low-carbon heating within three years.

A carbon capture and storage (CCS) ‘cluster’ should be used to produce “significant” volumes of low-carbon hydrogen by 2030 to meet potential increase in demand for the gas, the report added.

Another challenge identified in the report is ensuring the better public awareness around the need to end an existing reliance on natural gas. The CCC also called on government to ensure there was support for demonstrations of hydrogen for everyday purposes.

Ensuring ongoing research is undertaken to understand the feasibility of hydrogen for a range of applications, such as replacing natural gas as a means to generate low-carbon energy during peak times, is another priority for industry, according to the report.

“Research and development is required on hydrogen technologies for industrial heating applications, especially where there may be technical barriers to use of hydrogen,” said the findings.

Understanding the implications of hydrogen combustion on NOx emissions when compared to fossil fuels and other low-carbon alternatives when used in buildings, as well as how this output can be mitigated, was seen as a particularly important area for research, the report said.

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