To deliver the heat technology required to make net zero a reality, policy-makers need to make brave decisions now that put the UK on a pathway towards decarbonisation.
It may feel as though 2050 is a long time away. But time is short. Decarbonising and insulating the heating systems of nearly every home in the UK whilst also providing the infrastructure necessary to deliver the energy is a significant task. With around 23m homes in the UK, we must go at nearly 1m homes a year. This is a challenge the scale of which has never been delivered before.
The Climate Change Committee (CCC) estimate it will need a total of £250bn investment by 2050 – and a huge army of skilled engineers. Public support is key – especially as heating technology is integral to peoples’ homes, making it a very personal issue.
There is a lot of activity developing the policy framework needed to meet this challenge, but we now need to also start on delivery – of energy efficiency, heat pumps, heat networks and on hydrogen too. A ‘balanced pathway’ such as this has consistently been shown to be the cheapest overall, in part because it avoids the extremes either a full electrification or full hydrogen pathway entail.
Optionality is therefore key. Policy making today should be framed around ‘no regret’ actions and keeping open a range of technologies which could plausibly be part of the long-term low carbon energy mix. This means deploying heat pumps today where they make sense and taking the steps necessary to develop our future hydrogen technologies, where the UK has an opportunity to be at the forefront of a future $2.5tr global industry.
Our focus needs to be on completing our work to demonstrate hydrogen safety, enable the development of a hydrogen economy across the supply chain, prioritise innovation and get on with building the infrastructure we know we will need.
We can also ensure consumer wants and needs are met by putting them at the centre of decisions on low carbon heat, ending unnecessary ‘format wars’ between hydrogen and heat pumps and beginning engagement early on how the transition will happen and be paid for.
Finally, we can ensure robust economic decisions for both the Treasury and households by creating the right incentives to decarbonise heating, stop planning in silos and plan for the sort of peak heat the UK need to deliver in extreme weather events like the ‘Beast from the East’ we experienced in 2018.
By taking these steps the Government will be acting in the interests of consumers, the climate and the future prosperity of the UK, building our existing energy industry into something ready to export its skills, knowledge and products across the world. We must not miss the chance to lead the world in developing hydrogen for heat technology.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House’s morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.