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Industry faces significant unknowns from hydrogen heat switch

Industry has ten years to realise how heating appliances that make use of hydrogen or a blend of the gas can be made technically and economically viable, the APHC has said

Any partial or complete switchover of the gas grid to Hydrogen will require drastic and wide ranging changes to heating technologies and their maintenance over the next ten years.

Hydrogen gas is considered one potential option in the medium-term to longer-term that will help realise national aims for lower carbon homes. As such, a range of public and private sector research and development projects are already underway to determine how this might be viable on a commercial and technical level.

Graeme Dryden, technical services manager with the Association of Plumbing & Heating Contractors (APHC), said that there was significant uncertainty over how exactly greener gas such as hydrogen or biomethane may support UK aims to at least halve current energy use in new buildings by 2030.

The claims were made during a series of workshop events hosted by the APHC and Worcester Bosch to consider upcoming changes in heating standards and technologies.

Government has pledged to end fossil fuel heating, including existing gas boilers, in all new build properties by 2025. A question mark therefore remains over what role, if any, a revised grid will play in the design of future buildings.

Mr Dryden noted that while Biomethane could potentially be adopted in the gas grid within a short-term scale of around 12 months without needing a root and branch reform of appliances, research was ongoing into the suitability of hydrogen as a green alternative to using fossil fuels in the home.

This research was presently underway both at a government and industry level to look at whether a blend using hydrogen, or a switch fully to the gas can effectively be piped in and used in a new range of heating appliances, as well as creating a sustainably produced supply.

However, the path to ensuring widespread adoption of the gas was not clear.

Mr Dryden said, “We don’t even know how we are going to effectively meter it for charging purposes.”

HE added, “There is a lot of unknowns and based on the assumption of current industry practice, we won’t be doing what we do now.”

Mr Dryden said that any switch to hydrogen level on a widescale would not be realised until 2030 at the earliest, but was confident that it was the future for industry alongside electric heating.

He added, “It will happen and I think we know the journey and the end-point, that’s where we want to be and will be, but what we have to work out is how we get there. We have ten years to get where we want to be.”

“Everyone is going at full pelt. You just need to look at the amount of effort and investment that manufacturers such as Worcester Bosch are putting into burner technology to work out what is the damaging and positive effects of doing this.”

Shaun Clayton, a technical training engineer with Worcester Bosch, added that cost would be another vital consideration in determining whether hydrogen was in any way viable as either a national or regional solution for greener heat.

He said, “We’ve got people talking about is this switchover actually allowed to happen right now. So forget the technical aspect, within the gas safety management regulations it says that, ‘you shouldn’t be seen to be passing the cost of anything onto the consumer, whether increasing their fuel costs, the maintenance costs and upkeep of their boiler.”

Mr Clayton added that technical challenges posed from the use of biogases, such as the possible creation of silicon-like materials during the heating process, may for example require additional and more costly maintenance work and servicing.

He said that would create a notable problem in deciding who would be accruing the costs to ensure consumers faced minimum impact from any change.

Mr Clayton said, “So as much as we have all these ideas technically [about hydrogen adoption] and it is happening, there may be something to say that you can’t do it.”

Worcester Bosch has been looking over the last twelve months on testing of boilers operating on a gas blend consisting of 15 per cent hydrogen. Mr Clayton said that the technology was working, but the company was having to consider the technical and safety challenges of handling higher amounts of the gas in future supplies

He said, “Ideas are easy, but implementing them is something else. So, we have all these ideas, but Worcester Bosch has this thought process where if the government ask for a 20 per cent hydrogen blend, it will look to push these boundaries all the time.”

“It is not just a matter of safety remember, this is also about efficiency and reliability.”

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