Helen Bray, recently appointed president of the trade body, says building up and retaining a sufficiently skilled workforce is as vital to realise low carbon gas heating as ongoing research
The UK’s gas networks should be viewed as being at the forefront of any efforts to realise lower carbon homes, the new head of the Energy and Utilities Alliance (EUA) has argued.
Helen Bray, who has recently taken up the presidency role with the trade association after previously serving as its vice president, said the group was focused on bringing together the entire gas industry supply chain to better realise lower carbon buildings and energy.
Ms Bray said that the gas grid currently provides energy for heating to an estimated 85 per cent of UK homes. Considering this dominance, she said research was already underway at all levels of the industry to try to meet government ambitions for introducing a greener gas grid.
She said, “The gas networks have, for some time, been examining the opportunities and challenges associated with using low carbon gas – hydrogen and biogases – to help decarbonise the UK economy.”
“At the same time, heating appliance manufacturers are also poised to deliver low carbon solutions through familiar appliances such as the gas boiler.”
Existing gas boilers that are designed for the current gas grid will no longer be acceptable for use in new homes from 2025 under the government’s proposals for a Future Homes Standard.
However, government policy is yet to determine whether appliances designed exclusively for any potential alternative forms of gas, either in a revised single grid, or more region-specific transmission systems, will play a role in new build properties.
Ms Bray said that the government did accept there was a role for the wider gas grid, which she argued would include heating, through a budget commitment to increase the proportion of greener gas in the grid.
She added, “This provides the commitment that the gas networks need to invest further in developing low carbon gas solutions. Moving forward, the industry will continue to pursue research and technology to assist government and help create the conditions in which effective, evidence-based energy policy is developed.”
The EUA has argued that the industry’s ongoing focus on research had allowed for the development of an energy system that can deliver the UK’s ambitious targets with what it claimed was “minimal consumer disruption”. This could be viewed as a rebuke to plans for a total switchover to electric heating in new homes within the next seven years.
Technical research by the industry into ensuring a viable greener gas grid would however need to be complimented by an effective recruitment drive to create a sufficiently skilled and diverse workforce that was better representative of the UK population, Ms Brady said.
Efforts to ensure such a workforce was in place across the gas industry was one of the most significant challenges for the sector’s green ambitions, according to the EUA president.
Ms Brady added, “The UK’s energy industry is globally respected, but the only way for us to be able to continue to compete internationally, increase productivity and develop new technologies, is to maintain our workforce.
“With every positive step the industry makes to increase training and recruitment levels, there still remains a real threat to sheer numbers and the high competence levels that the industry has worked so hard to create.”