The owner of British Gas has called on the Government to throw £35 million at a plan to rip out gas boilers and replace them with hybrid systems, which use both gas and electricity to heat the UK’s homes.
Centrica said that a “retrofit fund” could transition around 5,000 homes from gas to hybrid heating by 2024, something which would reduce, though not eliminate, carbon emissions from heating these homes.
More than eight in 10 of the UK’s homes are heated with gas boilers which are responsible for about 14% of the country’s carbon emissions.
Climate experts have said that replacing these boilers will be one of the biggest challenges for the country in the path to net zero – a term that means the country does not emit more than it absorbs.
“Whilst hybrid systems, which combine small capacity gas boilers with air source heat pumps, do not currently offer a zero carbon solution, they will help to achieve carbon reduction in the short term,” Centrica said on Tuesday.
It said that over time the natural gas burnt to run the boilers would be replaced by hydrogen, which might reduce the emissions from the boilers to zero.
However, campaigners have long worried that investments into hydrogen could keep the UK hooked on fossil fuels.
Hydrogen can be produced in different ways, including through splitting water molecules, which can be carbon neutral.
However a vast majority of the world’s hydrogen is currently created through splitting natural gas molecules, a process which releases the gas’s carbon.
The industry says it can capture the carbon when producing hydrogen from natural gas, but the effectiveness of carbon capture has been questioned by campaigners.
Earlier this month E3G, Greenpeace and WWF and others asked Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to avoid rolling out hydrogen-ready boilers.
Doug Parr, policy director at Greenpeace UK, said: “Carbon capture isn’t zero carbon and at scale has systematically failed after decades of trying.”
Yet the Government’s official advisers at the Committee on Climate Change have recommended that 10 million hybrid heating systems should be installed by 2035.
Centrica said the retrofit fund should run from 2022 to 2024 and target the least energy-efficient homes and those that are not suitable for all-electric heat pumps.
Its chief executive Chris O’Shea said: “A range of technologies are needed for the transition, and hybrid heating systems should be considered as one of them.
“The introduction of a Retrofit Fund will enable us to develop the ‘Engineer of the Future’ and Government to test and learn about the significant role hybrids can play as a bridge towards stronger low carbon solutions, such as hydrogen, and in reaching net zero.”
Centrica is currently running a hybrid trial in the West Midlands, and thinks that these homes could get around 80% of their heating needs from the heat pump, with the rest being topped up by gas boilers.