Simon Clarke is a former Minister at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, and is MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland. The big outstanding question is how best to solve our remaining core challenge: decarbonising heat. We know that gas boilers are one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions, and I am encouraged to hear more people talking about how we address this. The truth is that the action that has been taken on decarbonising heat so far is not nearly sufficient to meet our ambitious 2050 net zero target. What is the solution? In a very welcome move, the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee has an inquiry underway on precisely this subject. But I want to offer my thoughts. The first is that we shouldn’t put all our eggs in the basket of hydrogen – and thereby overlook some more immediately deployable technologies. The development of new hydrogen technology is hugely exciting, and it will undoubtedly play a key role in a net zero economy, but it won’t, for example, tackle the millions of gas boilers that need to be replaced by the 2030s. The fact is that low-carbon hydrogen is still in development, and we need to act now to have a realistic prospect of meeting our ambitious targets. This is not just a question of speed. Hydrogen needs to be stored under high temperatures, creating cost; it is more complex and energy intensive to produce than using renewable energy directly across our economy. Hydrogen has huge potential to help unlock the net zero challenge, but I am doubtful it should represent the standard source of home heating. So what is the solution? For households, the answer seems more likely to be electric heat, in the form of the existing technology of heat pumps. Electricity is a cheaper fuel than low-carbon hydrogen, while being more efficient. For every kWh you put into a heat pump, you get 3 kWhs of heat; for every kWh of energy you put into a hydrogen boiler, you get less than one kWh of heat. Studies show that 99 per cent of heat demand could be met by electricity, using technologies already in existence.
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