Boris Johnson wants us to change our home heating, but boiler company boss MARK GLASGOW, above, says there are considerable challenges
With the COP26 climate summit almost upon us, the focus on controlling emissions has turned on small businesses and that staple of every household – the gas boiler. Boris Johnson wants them removed and replaced with eco-friendly alternatives, but that presents a huge set of challenges, not least the cost and the availability of skilled labour.
The Prime Minister is offering £5,000 grants to households, though the £450m fund he’s proposing will pay for only 90,000 installations against a 2028 target of 600,000. Already he’s facing a backlash from those who say his plans are just not ambitious enough.
While the politicians argue over the cost and scale of achieving Net Zero, the boiler trade is looking at the practicalities of reducing the 14% of carbon emissions produced by homes across the nation and will need more guidance and support from a more proactive government.
I don’t see heat pumps – the PM’s preferred option – being the only solution as they will prove extremely hard to fit in areas with little space, such as tenements, and there are challenges with retrofitting them. The whole system will, in many cases, need to be changed including pipework and radiators. The cost of the units are expensive and the flow temperature performance is not as good as a combi boiler, so any badly designed heat pumps installations will be useless and very expensive.
Another big challenge is the electrical grid – the network of overhead lines and cables that gets the electricity from generators to consumers. It will be handling the extra demand as 21 million domestic gas users shift to electricity.
There’s only so much power you can get through a line or cable before it overheats and fails, and during peak times this will be a big problem. Electricity outages will most definitely occur with our current electrical network so major upgrades to the electrical distribution network will also be needed and this won’t be cheap.
Scottish Government activity centres on a low-carbon hydrogen energy economy around blue hydrogen. This is because initially blue hydrogen production is predicted to be cheaper and more scalable than green hydrogen, as green hydrogen production relies on periods of surplus energy production from renewable resources, which are not yet available.
The Edinburgh Boiler Company, which I own, is making a contribution to sustainability in a number of ways. We were the first member of the STV Green Fund; we participate in a nationwide initiative whereby we plant a tree for every boiler we install – we’re now sitting at over 500 trees in the past six months.
Apart from addressing the skills shortage in our industry I wanted a facility where people could learn more about renewables, new technologies and sustainability and we recently opened our new headquarters housing our Energy Training Academy where we will train the engineers of tomorrow.
More focus on hydrogen boilers would be a positive thing for me. Engineers already working with gas wouldn’t have to retrain, there would be a slight change in approach but really just a top-up of the training we’re doing. The government needs to start putting money into hydrogen, particularly green hydrogen which is produced using renewables as opposed to fossil fuels.
Learning how to make a boiler as efficient as possible will reduce CO2 emissions, save energy, and lower the spend. Boiler efficiency is measured by how efficiently a boiler turns its fuel into heat energy. Essentially, an efficient boiler uses the least amount of energy and money and produces fewer carbon emissions. It’s a win-win situation for both the consumer and the planet.
MARK GLASGOW is founder and managing director of The Edinburgh Boiler Company
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