BBC article on the transition to zero carbon for home heating.

  • 6 February 2021
  • 33 replies
  • 285 views

Userlevel 7
Badge +11
  • Rocket Scientist
  • 10745 replies

The article is here

It doesn’t make for happy reading.

The only way I can see us getting anywhere near the targets is if the price of electricity drops a LOT, because heat pumps will only be for the relatively well off and hydrogen isn’t going to cover enough demand even assuming everyone has their boilers converted (which won’t happen anytime soon unless the government throw money at it).

I believe we are welded to (and welding with)  gas for very much longer unless affordable renewable electricity comes along, when the option to heat with electricity will become a viable proposition for those for whom a heat pump or hydrogen isn’t possible or isn’t affordable.


33 replies

Reminds me of an earlier thread discussing putting say 10% hydrogen in gas supplies… Maybe that will happen and help (a little)?

Userlevel 7
Badge +3

My understanding is that there is movement away from hydrogen, certainly for all hydrogen boilers which Worcester Bosch were developing two years ago. Hydrogen is not cheap to make at present. Cheapest way, and it is still expensive, is using natural gas - nuff said!

We need something different from gas and the obvious answer is generate more electricity, make it cheaper and yet Ofgem have now permitted an increase in customers’ prices.

The best solution is make builders build homes that are 100% self efficient. This is possible today at not much more than the normal build cost. About £1500 more I believe. But if your fuel bill is normally around £1200 who would not go for that?

Heat pumps are not wonderful for existing properties. You will not get your capital cost back. The “air” heat pumps have limitations in cooler temperatures.  They are not cheap - at present, that may change.

Similalry with solar panels- no capital cost recovery. Not wonderful in many areas of the UK. Wonderful in Australia! My brother out there makes a profit from his. Similarly solar thermal panels.

I see solutions to the issue:

  1. Reduce the price of electricity even if it means a subsidy whilst we improve generating capability.
  2. Possibly massive ground heat pumps underground, out of sight in fields, serving individual areas.
  3. Home heat pumps that are more efficient and cheaper and which generate electricity not just warm water.
  4. More efficient solar and thermal panels.
  5. Cheaper and better home storage batteries.
  6. Wind power - but take care with ruining the countryside and killing bird life.
  7. Mini nuclear plants serving areas. Ideally a brick of waste nuclear fuel for every house to generate power. I guess the latter won’t happen!
  8. Half a million hamsters in wheels generating power.

….but @woz you are right, electricity cost must come down, it is the only power we need for the future. It drives everything, including the “send” button on this post.

I only skim read this article, but the future’s bright, the future’s electric hydrogen…

https://www.carboncommentary.com/blog/2019/2/26/making-hydrogen-from-renewables-is-as-cheap-as-making-from-natural-gas

Deserves a place in your list @G4RHL maybe even above the hamsters?

Userlevel 7
Badge +3

Only just above the hamsters at present!

Hydrogen is absolutely great as it’s clean and there is an abundance of it about, H2O! It’s the extraction cost that needs to come down dramatically. In time it probably will but we don’t then have hydrogen pumped to us. That seems crackers and the infrastructure not there. It can be used to power clean electricity generating stations.

Covid produce new inventions as the need was suddenly there, perhaps this may happen with hydrogen.

Userlevel 7
Badge +11

@G4RHL @25 quid 

It won’t happen anything like quickly enough as too much infrastructure is required. On the other hand what a great opportunity to create some jobs. 

Look at how long the screw up that is Smart metering has taken, of course we all know it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work because no one will die, but you can’t say the same of having to convert 20 million (guess) boilers to work with Hydrogen. Or perhaps give a realistic subsidy to replace existing boilers with hydrogen fuelled boilers.

I do wonder that had the private sector been more involved in the design and rollout of the SM project, whether  it might have been better implemented. (#governmentinfrastructurescrewups)

Userlevel 7
Badge +3

But I suspect nobody is going to convert existing boilers to hydrogen nor will we see it piped around the country.. We need to breed morehamsters and make more hamster wheels.

But the point is you can stick 10% in with the gas and no change needed for all but the oldest boilers.

So a few blow up, collateral damage! 😉 

Userlevel 7
Badge +3

I don’t think they are so sure about the 10% and it does not make sense. You have to make the hydrogen to do that - currently from natural gas. They also don’t know if the current infrastructure can actually take 10% hydrogen without it leaking. Seems a pointless exercise. Better to employ minds on a complete rethink on the best way to provide fuel to heat homes. We already have the fuel. Every house is already connected. It’s the bill for usage that is currently the killer.

I see what you mean about priorities, but if you can make some hydrogen from solar and stick it in the gas supply, surely that helps a little? Mind you, I guess it’s better to stick the leccy straight into the grid.

Also I think I’m biased as the ticking noise from electric convector heaters drove me mad in a previous home. But inevitably electric heating is the future...

Userlevel 7
Badge +3

@25 quid I bought a Devola Eco 2.4kw Wi-Fi Panel Heater (convection and radiance) for our conservatory last October. It heats up quickly and no noise at all. There was one problem. When it is switched on for the first time it don’t half smell bad! My wife was certain I had broken wind! I had some work to do in my garage so took in there and let it burn its smell away. It did. All is good. But the garage stank for a while!

If the powers that be could apply just a modicum of brain power it’s a no brainier to forget about gas as the fuel source for domestic heating unless it is used to power a generating station. But will they think that far ahead or even use the old grey matter or will they allow themselves to be influenced by those with a vested interest in what we have now - the boiler makers, the central heating installers, the gas suppliers? I suspect the latter. At least if an electric boiler became viable it will keep some of the industry content. If electricity was cheaper though I am sure most will not want a boiler anymore.

Have you seen the news about the houses being built powered by hydrogen? 

First UK homes with hydrogen boilers and hobs to be built by April

I thought it may be of interest to you! 

Userlevel 7
Badge +8

Have you seen the news about the houses being built powered by hydrogen? 

First UK homes with hydrogen boilers and hobs to be built by April

I thought it may be of interest to you! 

Whey hey! Up here in the North east too, mint! 👍

Userlevel 7
Badge +3

I understood it was not to be just a couple of houses but am estate. It is still an odd direction to go in for (a) hydrogen is far from green when how it is made (from natural gas) is accounted for and (b) why promote wet heating systems? That is a retrograde step. It still seems that they miss they obvious. Use electricity, no infrastructure is needed, just provide it  but at a cheaper cost. The cost of going hydrogen could be applied as a subsidy for dry systems instead.

Userlevel 7
Badge +11

@G4RHL not sure I agree entirely (I do agree the hydrogen production should be from renewables)

The transition from wet to dry could take upwards of 40 - 50 years and is unaffordable for most but the very few wealthy people unless the government pay (they won’t) AND it involves ripping peoples houses apart; (for new builds it makes sense) The old wet copper should be recycled but it won’t be because lets face it what advantage does that give the customer other than ripping the house apart to get it. There will be a high carbon cost because of all the extra cabling (copper and plastic) required to carry the dry electricity.

However if renewable  energy was used to produce the hydrogen, even if some of it came from methane, it could be viable. in the short to medium term, but large scale low carbon hydrogen is probably over 20 years away.

All my own guesswork above apart from the link below

https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/low-carbon-energy-programme/hydrogen-production

Userlevel 7
Badge +3

Converting from wet to dry does not invoke any ripping apart. It only involves the removal of radiators and the the boiler. The average householder can instal a dry electric system. You need a drill, a screwdriver and some rawlplugs or equivalent, The cosmetic damage is absolutely minimal. Probably none visible. Installing is probably less than a morning’s work. The transition to a dry system could happen tomorrow morning it is so simple. The problem as you highlight is the cost of electricity has been allowed to escalate. Hydrogen could be used to produce it. A major problem is the vested interests of the boiler makers and gas suppliers. I think the time has come when the government should back electric power more than it does and so far as the gas industry is concerned  just say “tough”. After all it is going to happen anyway and the government has already imposed deadlines.

The spacecraft that landed on Mars yesterday is not dependent on natural gas to function. Unless it took a long pipe with it.

Userlevel 7
Badge +11

Converting from wet to dry does not invoke any ripping apart. It only involves the removal of radiators and the the boiler. The average householder can instal a dry electric system. You need a drill, a screwdriver and some rawlplugs or equivalent, The cosmetic damage is absolutely minimal. Probably none visible. Installing is probably less than a morning’s work. The transition to a dry system could happen tomorrow morning it is so simple. The problem as you highlight is the cost of electricity has been allowed to escalate. Hydrogen could be used to produce it. A major problem is the vested interests of the boiler makers and gas suppliers. I think the time has come when the government should back electric power more than it does and so far as the gas industry is concerned  just say “tough”. After all it is going to happen anyway and the government has already imposed deadlines.

The spacecraft that landed on Mars yesterday is not dependent on natural gas to function. Unless it took a long pipe with it.

 @G4RHL 

hi Richard I see your point but I was thinking about the tons of pipework left behind, at a minimum the ends would need to be removed/capped  as would any pipework which was there due to solid floors etc. All of the boiler electrics would need to be made safe, thermostats removed and plastered over, or re-used to a central control unit etc. etc. 

So yes you could just drain the system, take off the rads and rip the boiler out, but it would leave a mess. 

I absolutely agree that this isn’t going to happen unless the price per kWh drops, or UK will go from 10% of the population being in fuel poverty to many times that amount. 

 

Userlevel 7
Badge +3

Having just had a boiler replaced and removed a radiator the only place to tidy up if you went dry is where the boiler would have been. The existing pipes can be left in place as I did where the radiator was taken out cutting off the ends where connected to the system and the radiator. No capping needed as the water left in is very little. I did though seal the ends! However, yes, a much bigger job if the pipes cannot  be left concealed behind the wall. In my case, if I went try and this was considered, I did not see it all as a complex or over messy job, but one, other than the boiler removal , I could do myself, even at my tender age! But of course the government could provide grants for it all!!

The government want us to go electric with our vehicles but not with our heating, yet the infrastructure is already in place in every home and the current infrastructure will not take hydrogen.

Mars is said to be very hot, perhaps the spacecraft up there could set up a generator and run a cable back to earth!

I think the only carbon neutral future is highly insulated houses, to the Passiv House standard. If you have such a house you don’t even need a heat pump because your every day activities (watching TV , exercise bike etc) are enough to heat the house. We need a national program of destroy and rebuild. It sounds extreme, but climate change is extreme. And doing this would fix the problem once and for all (as far as heating buildings is concerned.) Of course we should have raised the standard for new build years ago. It was in the Con-Lib coalition government manifesto but was dropped, shamefully. Does it sound impossible? Remember once before we knocked down much of the housing stock and rebuilt (in the 50s and 60s slum clearances.) We could do it again. 

 

At the moment the incentives are not in place and planning control makes it difficult. Politicians get a focus! In the mean time, I have been very impressed with the effectiveness of internal insulation (50mm foam plus plasterboard). My walls are pre-1900 rubble filled walls so cavity insulation is not possible. It has made the rooms way warmer. But his is not nearly as good as new build to Passiv House standard.

Converting from wet to dry does not invoke any ripping apart. It only involves the removal of radiators and the the boiler. The average householder can instal a dry electric system. You need a drill, a screwdriver and some rawlplugs or equivalent, The cosmetic damage is absolutely minimal. Probably none visible. Installing is probably less than a morning’s work. The transition to a dry system could happen tomorrow morning it is so simple. The problem as you highlight is the cost of electricity has been allowed to escalate. Hydrogen could be used to produce it. A major problem is the vested interests of the boiler makers and gas suppliers. I think the time has come when the government should back electric power more than it does and so far as the gas industry is concerned  just say “tough”. After all it is going to happen anyway and the government has already imposed deadlines.

The spacecraft that landed on Mars yesterday is not dependent on natural gas to function. Unless it took a long pipe with it.

Hi G4RHL,

I don’t think resistive heaters (which could be installed so easily, as you describe) are the way to go in most cases. You get about 3 times more heat from a heat pump per kWh of electricity. It is inconvenient but true. There is a paradox here. Currently available heat pumps are not powerful enough for a house with moderate insulation. But if you get the insulation level high enough (approaching passiv house standard) you don’t really need a heat pump because you will use such a tiny amount of energy heating. anyway. 

So you are really faced with 2 choices,

  • go all the way with insulation (major installation inconvenience) with or without a heat pump or
  • go part way with insulation, install the biggest heat pump you can find and hope for the best (you might end up being cold).

As far as just putting resistive heating in ,(as you suggest) we would have to increase the electricity supply many time over , at least 3 probably more like 5 to 10 (no-one has done that calculation). And that is increasing it beyond our current total supply (green and fossil). Pretty impossible task. And remember the ongoing carbon and financial costs of maintaining all all that equipment. By contrast, when we bite the bullet and thoroughly insulate the housing stock we would come out with a surplus of electricity which we could direct to other purposes such as steel and concrete production.

 

Tony Blair once said “Education education education”. A future leader will say “Insulation insulation insulation” 

Userlevel 7
Badge +11

@mikeavison 

as the old saying goes when asking for directions

“I wouldn’t start from here if I was you”

you aren’t efficient enough so lets rip the house apart won’t go down well...(I agree with you but most people have other more pressing issues)

so 2 options,

either electricity prices have to fall (this won’t encourage efficiency but will allow a period of migration)

or electricity prices rise so people have no choice but to insulate as ongoing energy costs will be untenable.

guess which?

(notwithstanding the possibility of Hydrogen conversion)

 

 

Badge

The article is here

It doesn’t make for happy reading.

The only way I can see us getting anywhere near the targets is if the price of electricity drops a LOT, because heat pumps will only be for the relatively well off and hydrogen isn’t going to cover enough demand even assuming everyone has their boilers converted (which won’t happen anytime soon unless the government throw money at it).

I believe we are welded to (and welding with)  gas for very much longer unless affordable renewable electricity comes along, when the option to heat with electricity will become a viable proposition for those for whom a heat pump or hydrogen isn’t possible or isn’t affordable.


Legislation.

Force all new homes to have solar panels on roof and heat pumps installed.

Same for refurbs, through the planning permission and buidlings control process.

I don’t buy the “only well off” argument, especially given the effective subsidy over the last few decades.
Hey, start now, they have 9 years to save for it.

@mikeavison

as the old saying goes when asking for directions

“I wouldn’t start from here if I was you”

you aren’t efficient enough so lets rip the house apart won’t go down well...(I agree with you but most people have other more pressing issues)

so 2 options,

either electricity prices have to fall (this won’t encourage efficiency but will allow a period of migration)

or electricity prices rise so people have no choice but to insulate as ongoing energy costs will be untenable.

guess which?

(notwithstanding the possibility of Hydrogen conversion)

 

 

I think you are too pessimistic Woz. Of course I am not saying people will do this by themselves. But given the right incentives I think it could work. It will be highly disruptive, but we are up against the biggest impending catastrophe that human civilisation has ever encountered, so inconvenience - bring it on! No-one has worked out the maths yet but I am pretty confident that it is do-able. We already had a pilot project, the photo-voltaic installation. Future energy savings were used (in some plans) to finance the up front capital cost by involving private sector financial services. That needs to be replicated on a huge scale for insulating houses. The task is enormous but the future energy savings are enormous too, we “just” need to get one to pay for the other. There is also a ton of preparatory work to do. We have such a diverse housing stock and I don’t think we have developed the most cost effective and least disruptive means of insulating the different housing styles. We need templates for each wall construction etc and for flats vs houses etc. We need new innovative methods to those ends. We have surprised ourselves how quickly we developed covid vaccines and scaled up to mass production and delivery. I hope that serves as a confidence builder for this much greater task ahead. 

Userlevel 7
Badge +3

Building regulations need to change to require better standards of heat retention and insulation in all properties. I know a 100% energy efficient house can be built at I believe about £1500 more than the cost of building a standard detached home. I am sure it is Bristol University that carried out the exercise several years ago. It does not help existing homes but it builds for the future and as years roll by other ingenuities will materialise to make it more affordable for existing stock improvement. 

There have been some changes to provide better insulation of late. My son bought a 4 bedroom, 3 storey, 3 bathroom house on a new estate about 2.5 years ago. I was surprised at the tiny radiators he has. They are minute. The house heats up quickly and is warm. The radiators are way below the spec that I would need to maintain the same heat. The reason is the insulation requirement. They improved on the breeze block heat retention/reflection abilities, there is excellent cavity insulation and the loft has the interior roof insulated as opposed to glass fibre wool between the joists. The cost of the house was no different to others of similar size. The only fault was the builders put the thermostat at the bottom of the staircase. Stupid. My son grumbled that sometimes his kids say their rooms aren’t warm.  Within 4 feet of the thermostat was a radiator! Indeed right by the front door! I asked if he thought he needed it on and suggested he tries turning it off. He did, all is balanced. Why you would put a thermostat, never mind in the hall or staircase area and within a few feet of a radiator, escapes me. He would do better to remove the thermostat completely and set up individual room control.

However, ignorance of where to place a thermostat apart, his home does show what can be achieved today.

Government needs to provide more electric power, provide subsidies to users and move right away from wet heating systems. Having said that I have just installed a new gas boiler! I can’t afford the more appropriate alternative.

Userlevel 7
Badge +11

….

Government needs to provide more electric power, provide subsidies to users and move right away from wet heating systems. Having said that I have just installed a new gas boiler! I can’t afford the more appropriate alternative.

@mikeavison @G4RHL 

I don’t think I’m overly pessimistic at all, I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it, I’m saying it’s going to be very very hard to achieve. Yes of course the standards need to be improved, but it isn’t not going to be achieved because the housing stock is diverse, that’s the easy part, it’s people and their financial situations (especially post the start of covid) that are diverse, it simply isn’t going to happen without a either a big stick or a very big carrot. That isn’t pessimistic it’s realistic. I wish it wasn’t so..

@G4RHL the last sentence quoted above supports my point (but proves nothing...)

 

I wonder whether electricity would be any cheaper if the supply wasn’t in the hands of profit making companies?

Reply