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Hydrogen or Heat Pumps?

Back in March, we wrote about the options for stopping to use gas at home - being based around waiting for hydrogen or getting a heat pump. One of the great (or tricky depending on how you look at it) things about climate technology is that it is ever changing...

row of terraced houses

So are both an option or just one?

Initially, it seemed like hydrogen was a viable option to replace gas for domestic heating - and from reading the research at the time it certainly sounded like it. However, recently it has become more and more apparent that it isn't.

It now appears to be very clear that electrification is the best route to decarbonise heating our homes.

Give us the executive summary then...

There are probably four key points worth mentioning here:

  1. "Green" hydrogen is expensive and needs renewable energy to make. Clearly, we don't have enough of that at the moment, and possibly won't do for a long time.

  2. The infrastructure ugrades (pipework, hydrogen storage etc) would be expensive, adding to the already expensive cost to produce the hydrogen itself.

  3. Heat pumps just work very well - even in cold temperatures. Yes they have to work "harder" and use more electricity in very cold weather (and in poorly insulated homes) but this is easier to overcome than the challenges of hydrogen heating.

  4. For the hydrogen we do produce in the future, there are more important use cases that do not have a viable electric alternative currently.

That makes sense, why all the confusion then?

heat pumps of different sizes
Air source heat pumps

Good question. There are obviously lots of very clever people looking at all the options for the future - and you inevitably get differences in opinion. There are also certain parties with vested interests (e.g. the companies who look after our current gas pipe infrastructure who have a whole workforce and income stream) who understandably have a slight skew towards a more like for like replacement for gas.

Ok, but do heat pumps actually work though?

The short answer is yes. Several othe countries with similar (or colder) climates to ours are seeing rapid increases in the number of heat pumps being installed - from an already higher base than the UK. The main issue appears to be the cost - with a heat pump installation costing more than a replacement gas boiler. There are also sometimes addtional upgrades required to radiators or pipework during installation which can also add to the costs.

On that front - there is some good news. At the time of writing, the UK government is providing a grant for heat pumps is £7,500 so many homes can get a heat pump installed for significantly cheaper than a replacement gas boiler. Coupled with the potential for lower running costs (with the right electricity tariff), heat pumps have become very financially viable for anyone looking to replace a gas boiler.

If you have any thoughts, feedback or ideas you wish to contribute on this or any other topic covered by The Climate Coach - please get in touch, we'd love to hear from you.

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