The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) newly published report, ‘Net Zero by 2050 – A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector’, presents the findings of its global study on how to transition to a net zero energy system by 2050, with the aim of ensuring stable and affordable energy supplies, providing universal energy access, and enabling robust economic growth.
The report sets out the need for “massive expansion of the electricity sector to power the needs of a growing global economy, the electrification of end uses that previously used fossil fuels, and the production of hydrogen from electrolysis”. Although the IEA expect to see widespread electrification of heating through the use of heat pumps, IGEM welcome the IEA’s recognition that “not all buildings are best decarbonised with heat pumps however, and bioenergy boilers, solar thermal, district heat, low‐carbon gases in gas networks and hydrogen fuel cells all play a role in making the global building stock zero‐carbon‐ready by 2050”. This is in line with a report published last month by Energy & Utilities Alliance (EUA), ‘Decarbonising Heat in Buildings – Putting Consumers First’. The EUA study examined the challenge of retrofitting old housing stock with low carbon heating technologies, concluding that heat pump only systems could be unsuitable for up to 54% of the existing UK housing stock, due to lack of exterior space and thermal efficiency of the building fabric.
IGEM also welcomes the IEA’s recommendation that Governments ensure that new gas boilers are capable of operating with low-carbon gases, as part of a decarbonised gas network, and that no new fossil fuel boilers are sold from 2025, “except where they are compatible with hydrogen”. This is something that the Climate Change Committee also supported, as part of its ‘balanced scenario’ outlined in its Sixth Carbon Budget published last year – also in the approach outlined in the Energy Networks Association (ENA) recent Gas Goes Green report, ‘Britain’s Hydrogen Network Plan’.
IGEM supports the recommendation of a mandate being in force by no later than 2025, which would mean that most homes would have hydrogen-ready appliances by 2040. Mandating hydrogen ready appliances, such as boilers, from 2025 would ensure an easier and quicker switchover to hydrogen once the gas grid is ready and regulations have been updated.
The IEA state that “blending hydrogen into existing gas networks offers another early avenue to scale up low‐carbon hydrogen production and trigger cost reductions”. IGEM are supporting the gas industry to do just that. Through IGEM’s Gas Quality Working Group, we are facilitating a change in regulations on the quality of gas allowed to be injected into the transmission and distribution network, to allow for more biomethane and eventually hydrogen blending in the UK gas network.
To achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and tackle one of the hardest to abate sectors, heating, we must utilise all available tools. Hydrogen is now being recognised as having enormous potential on a global scale and industry and government must harness this potential to maintain flexibility in the energy system, maximise choice for consumers and minimise the cost of the energy transition.