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Infrastructure key to making hydrogen a reality

The industry has made encouraging progress in the development of hydrogen as one of the options for future low carbon heating, but the reality is that we still do not have the infrastructure to support wide scale deployment. Mark Wilkins, head of training and external affairs at Vaillant, comments...

Mark Wilkins, head of training and external affairs at Vaillant

“Decarbonisation of heat in buildings is a major challenge and driven by many factors, including the amendment of the UK’s Climate Change Act 2008 to include an ambitious net zero carbon by 2050 target. 

“There are three pathways currently being explored. The first is ‘greening’ the gas supply, with either 100% hydrogen or a blend of natural gas with hydrogen and other bio-gases. The second is electrification, by way of low carbon power generation and the wide scale uptake of heat pumps and electric heating solutions. The third option is a hybrid approach, where heat is provided by both electrification and green gases for peak loads.

“The development of hydrogen-ready boilers is one piece of the puzzle; the real challenge comes with creating the industry to produce hydrogen sustainably, with the skills and network to deliver it to UK homes and businesses on the scale required. Until we have definitive solutions to these issues, hydrogen ready boilers are only part of the solution, the part that manufacturers can deliver. 

“Hydrogen is colourless, odourless and has a wider flammability range compared to natural gas. These different characteristics mean that there is work to be done to determine how we use hydrogen in homes and businesses and how it can be delivered through the existing UK gas network. 

“Vaillant is supporting multiple projects across the UK and Europe that are exploring how to make this vision a reality, such as HyDeploy at Keele University, which aims to prove that blending up to 20% volume of hydrogen with natural gas is a safe and greener alternative to the gas we use now.

“In addition to the aforementioned schemes, there are many other important initiatives being explored by the wider industry. These include Hy4Heat, a study for gas appliances in residential and commercial buildings, to establish if it’s technically possible to replace natural gas with hydrogen and H100, which is looking to construct and demonstrate the UK’s first network to carry 100% hydrogen.

“We will also need to establish new standards for the development, installation, servicing and use of hydrogen-ready boilers, supported by a national roll-out of affordable and accessible training schemes. This will ensure we have enough highly skilled professionals available to install and service hydrogen boilers will also be an essential element of future plans to deploy hydrogen heating appliances. 

“We have just developed a new, CIBSE-approved CPD on hydrogen and the role of green gas in the decarbonisation of heat which is currently being rolled out to M&E consultants, specifiers and energy managers, who are increasingly required to consider low carbon options for new heating and hot water systems. Through this CPD we aim to engage the debate of what needs to be done and the best approach for green gas in the UK. 

“This module gives a high-level overview of the pathways to decarbonisation; potential uses of hydrogen and other green gases; challenges faced in developing future products for domestic and light commercial applications; and, crucially, the scale of what needs to happen to roll out hydrogen in the UK. 

“Our hope is that the deployment of CPDs and other training materials will ensure all industry stakeholders are singing from the same hymn sheet, and well-prepared for the collective effort it will require to achieve the Government’s target of net zero emissions by 2050.

“Vaillant is not only involved in the development of hydrogen appliances but also actively developing a diverse range of energy saving, environmentally friendly products and systems to meet heating energy demands, whatever the future brings.

“Be it the increasing demand for electricity or developing the industry to support green gases, all players in the supply chain, for all technologies, must work together to realise the crucial infrastructure that decarbonisation relies on.”

11 May 2020

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