Heating our way to Net Zero

The EU’s New Green Deal announcement on green hydrogen today dovetails with the UK government’s release of £3 billion in grants for UK home insulation. Rishi Sunak’s scheme, which will be confirmed in his Summer statement tomorrow, may not sound as grand, but it’s much more likely to get quick wins – not just on jobs but on the road to net zero.

Encouraging people to spend on making their homes more energy tight is exactly the sort of policy that might just get people doing the right thing for the environment – because it speaks to their pockets.

Especially at the moment, while people are concerned about climate change, they are really worried about their own jobs and personal finances. The environment, for many people, is taking a temporary backseat while we sort ourselves out, but this grant funding allows people to have their cake and eat it.

Help with home insulation will keep people warmer in the winter and crucially cut down their energy bills. Paying them to save money and to help the environment in the process is a real win-win.

It’s important because how we heat our homes, along with transport and industry, is still one of our big emissions challenges. The UK is one of the world leaders in decarbonising electricity (with around 30% of all the electricity we use coming from renewable sources), but electricity still only makes up 20% of all the energy we use.

Think trucks, planes, cars and many of our essential industrial processes, and you begin to understand why. The PPE debate was as much about looking at our own manufacturing capabilities as it was around the chemicals, the essential plastics and latex needed for face visors, disposable aprons and gloves. They all need oil and gas.

It means that we still have a long road to get everything electrified with renewable energy. So how can we best help the process along, all the while keeping the net-zero carbon dioxide emissions target in mind?

With so much of what we need still depending on oil and gas (you can’t make a wind turbine, solar panel or mobile phone without it), and with our economy in a fragile state, we need to be talking about cleaning up the oil and gas that we use today. That’s as true of how we heat our homes as it is for our manufacturing plants.

While we generate low carbon energy from nuclear, and develop technologies like battery storage, we need to decarbonise the oil and gas we are using today – and those technologies already exist. Carbon capture and storage allows us to produce blue hydrogen from natural gas and gives us somewhere to put the carbon dioxide from direct air capture.

That way carbon dioxide emissions can be cut dramatically, quickly and less expensively. For a start, let’s get all new boilers hydrogen ready, so that once hydrogen is introduced into our system, we’ll be prepared for it.

Apart from anything else, it’s more jobs created and retained at the same time as providing a realistic and practical pathway to net zero. Win-win-win.