Carbon emissions from heating could be slashed by installing hybrid technology that does not require major changes to people’s homes, Government climate advisers have suggested.
The potential for hybrid heat pumps using electricity most of the time and then hydrogen to meet peak demand on cold winter days has been a “light bulb moment”, the Committee on Climate Change said.
While the Government has had success in cutting emissions from electricity, carbon from heating buildings has been a much more intractable problem because of the impact on people’s lives of changing how homes are heated.
But a new report from the Committee said installing hybrid heat pumps for buildings on the gas grid, along with boosting energy efficiency and making new homes more efficient, could cut emissions to near zero by 2050.
Hybrid versions of heat pumps, which use the UK’s increasingly low-carbon electricity to extract heat from the air, can be retrofitted around existing boilers, and do not require changes to radiators.
The system would use gas on the coldest winter days to ensure the same performance as existing heating systems, while cutting emissions in the near term, the report said.
The remaining gas supply could be switched to hydrogen at a later date to almost completely remove fossil fuel use in buildings.
And the use of the hybrid heat pumps would need far less hydrogen than a wholesale switch of the gas grid to the cleaner fuel would require.
It is a system which has been tested in a pilot in Bridgend, South Wales, with positive feedback from households, the committee said.
The report also found hydrogen could play a role in cutting fossil fuels from heavy goods vehicles, industrial processes and to replace gas power to manage peaks in an electricity system with a high amount of renewables.
Hydrogen would be generated from natural gas using technology to permanently capture and store carbon underground, a more cost effective way to scale up hydrogen production than using electricity to create it.
The Committee’s deputy chairwoman Baroness Brown said: “Hybrid heat pumps are the best of both worlds. Heat pumps on their own haven’t been very successful in this country.”
But the hybrid option “we think is a solution to what seems to be a knotty problem”, that would not require changing the experience for consumers or the look of their homes, she said.
“When we were able to do this modelling it was a bit of a light bulb moment for us.”
The new analysis has found it would not be a more expensive solution than a full switch of the gas grid to hydrogen or a move over to electrifying heating.
Government must develop a full strategy for removing carbon emissions from heating in the next three years, including clear signals on future use of the gas grid and support for carbon capture and storage, the committee said.
Pilot schemes and public engagement will also be needed to communicate the need to cut carbon from heating and reassure people hydrogen is safe, the report said.
Lord Deben, chairman of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), said: “The future now rests on Government making a quick decision and fully committing to low-carbon heat within the next three years.
“This is important to achieving the existing 2050 emissions target, but even more important as we consider whether it is possible for the UK to reach ‘net-zero’ emissions in the future.”
A Business Department spokesman said: “As we strive to meet our ambitious climate change targets and deliver value for money, the Government will continue to work with industry and academia to understand the options that hydrogen offers to our future energy system.
“Alongside funding for hydrogen we also support innovation in carbon capture, a key enabler for low carbon hydrogen.”