We have a method for deciding this

Hydrogen is unsuitable for use in home heating, and likely to remain so, despite the hopes of the UK government and plumbing industry, a comprehensive review of scientific papers has concluded.

Hydrogen lobbyists are out in force at the Labour party conference this week, sponsoring several events in Liverpool, and will be plentiful at the Conservative party conference that begins this weekend.

They are hoping to persuade the UK government to push ahead with a mooted large-scale rollout of hydrogen for home heating, as a replacement for the gas used to heat the vast majority of British homes. Hydrogen proponents say it would avoid households having to replace gas boilers with heat pumps, the other main contender for low-carbon home heating.

But researchers reviewed 32 studies of hydrogen and concluded that it was unlikely to play a major role in home heating, either as a full replacement for fossil fuel gas heating, or as a blend with natural gas.

Jan Rosenow, Europe director at the Regulatory Assistance Project, an energy thinktank, and co-author of the study, said there were too many technical difficulties to overcome to make hydrogen a viable and economic low-carbon heating fuel.

“Using hydrogen for heating may sound attractive at first glance. However, all of the independent research on this topic comes to the same conclusion: heating with hydrogen is a lot less efficient and more expensive than alternatives such as heat pumps, district heating and solar thermal,” he said.

The method being to conduct the experiment and find out.

Which means that ghastly little toads like Jan Rosenow who would forbid the experiment for fear that it might work can fuck off.

49 thoughts on “We have a method for deciding this”

  1. In this case the hydrogen experiment is likely to end with people’s houses exploding or burning down. Mind you, the Labour party conference sounds like an ideal place to recruit participants.

  2. ‘alternatives such as heat pumps, district heating and solar thermal’ I thought you were quoting someone with good sense, until I saw that.

    Of course you could turn the hydrogen into ammonia, and use the present gas network. Though being a NIMBY, I really wouldn’t want to put up with the smell.

  3. Not surprised. Hydrogen’s not a gas I’d like to be working with. Leaks through almost anything. The problems with what happens when hydrogen permeates metals.
    But what about the technical problems with heat pumps. I still can’t see how you can get them to work in the UK.
    You read the literature that’s boosting them, there’s always the claim that they’ll extract heat from the air even down to sub-zero temperatures. That is actually easy. Below zero the humidity of air is, by definition, zero. So yeah, they’ll work in the arctic. Typical winter in the UK is a few degrees above zero & very relative humidity. Those days it didn’t rain but the streets were wet all day. Washing wouldn’t dry. For a heat pump to extract heat the collector end has to be at a temperature lower than the air. Lower, the more efficient. And in the UK the moisture in the air will freeze out on the collector. Ice is a very good insulator. So the heat pump stops pumping heat.

  4. The problem with hydrogen is that it’s the smallest possible atom, and so can squeeze through the smallest of gaps and escape – even between other atoms. It beings a whole new engineering problem to making joints gas tight. Hydrogen will see yer standard tightened brass locking nut as a thin cloud of slightly inconvenient tinfoil.

    Additionally, over the last few decades the gas distribution network has been upgraded from iron piping to PVC. Hydrogen just loves passing through PVC. You would need to replace the distribution network – again! and throwing away the capital investment of the existing network before it’s worn out – before you could use it for hydrogen. It would only be practical for free-standing usage, like existing propane/butane systems.

    Did none of these idiots have science lessons at school?

  5. Boganboy,
    ‘alternatives such as heat pumps, district heating and solar thermal’

    No, he’s quite right, hydrogen is even worse than those terrible alternatives.

  6. But surely Hydrogen is not an energy source as such, but a method of storage; and not a particularly efficient one.

    So colour me unimpressed for home heating.

  7. Also hydrogen fires. They produce almost no light. So you don’t know there is one until the heat hits you. Very dangerous.

  8. @BiS: There may be theoretical reasons why a heat pump can’t work in the UK but in practice they work just fine. I got one installed in 2021 and it handled the winter fine, with an average COP of ~3.2. Yes, in cold wet weather they ice up – that’s why they have defrost capability built in. It takes a small amount of extra energy but that’s included in the COP. I know that if we had a -20° freeze it wouldn’t be efficient but we’ve got back up heating (gas fire, wood burner) for those occasions, although we’ve used them less than a dozen times in the last 5 years.

    As for pure hydrogen in the gas mains, even if it had no other technical problems, you have to change a large area at a time. This means modifying or replacing every methane burning device to use hydrogen. They can’t be used while the conversion is going on, so no gas cooking or heating for weeks because of the inevitable manpower shortage. This might just be acceptable in summer, but from experience some years back our gas main was supposed to be upgraded from cast iron to plastic in August, but ended up being done during a freeze in the following February. That’s not going to be a popular option.

  9. Tim: I wonder how you would do the experiment without replacing a significant part of the gas infrastructure with a hydrogen one. There is a bit of an experimental hydrogen infrastructure for hydrogen-powered vehicles but I don’t think it includes a gas transport network like we have for methane, and that would be where a lot of the problems would surface.

    They are right to consider what we already know about the problems of using hydrogen. The boosters need to be put on the spot and asked the hard questions about how they would solve those problems.

  10. If only there were some cheap, abundant, easily transportable, efficient source of energy, with a ready-built infrastructure to heat / power peoples homes.

    Oh, there is. But the people in charge won’t let the proles have it………..

  11. A couple of years ago, I saw a German propaganda documentary about the “future” of hydrogen as a fuel. I concluded from the barely mentioned technical issues ( storage at 900+ bar, replacing or reshielding thousands of miles of piping to homes, inpracticabilty of production ) that there wasn’t one. This probably won’t stop the stupider politicoes from trying to introduce it.

  12. I have always found it perverse that mankind expends so much effort digging up hydrocarbons and then puts in so much effort to reburying a proportion in landfill. Most of the waste we chuck out burns well enough. There are LARGE companies (such as Covanta) whose business model is Waste-to-power. Rather than wasting our time sorting it all out we should chuck all our rubbish into the bin, aggregate the collected waste at a recycling / powergen facility, recover what we can economically , and reduce the rest to ash and electricity. All those shiploads of trash we send overseas or to UK landfill should be going to the incinerator. It’s not brilliantly green but it does displace gas or coal

  13. Patrick: +1

    Round our way we have both an incinerator and landfill. The landfill gets covered with, I think, clay eventually and the methane it gives off also generates electricity. I suspect methane from landfill is significantly less efficient though.

  14. Tractor Gent: “I wonder how you would do the experiment”

    Here’s how I would do it:

    1. offer to sell water heating services at a cost per kWh with specified reliability for a specified time period, with penalties for failing to provide the service.

    2. see who will invest in a business offering such a service

    3. after the business has figured out the technical details and how much it will cost, see who will buy at that price

    If the thing makes a profit, the experiment is a success and can be repeated. If people’s houses explode and they are left without heating for months, pay the penalties and compensation and go out of business and don’t do it again.

    I suspect it might fail at stage 2, though.

  15. “I know that if we had a -20° freeze it wouldn’t be efficient but we’ve got back up heating (gas fire, wood burner) for those occasions”

    And what keeps you warm when the powers that be have removed your gas supply and banned wood stoves? It seems your energy policy is similar to that of our lords and masters – namely to ignore the fact that the chosen method doesn’t work 100% of the time and will need a back up system. At least you (currently) have your log fire & gas boiler backup, not sure how much comfort that gives to someone in a modern new build rabbit hutch when their air source heat pump stops working and they don’t have a chimney to have a fire.

  16. Patrick: instead of me paying the council to take away my rubbish, someone should be paying me to come and collect it so they can burn it for fuel or whatever else they want to do with it. At current energy prices it might even work!

  17. Hydrogen is what used to be delivered to peoples houses as gas. Remember the coversion of every gas appliance to natural gaz? That was from hydrogen

  18. Agree Rob. We cannot yet store renewable energy – the technology doesn’t exist at the scale of a whole economy. So we rely on gas – and are very belatedly and lamely scrabbling around for whatever energy sources we can. But there’s a fucking monstrously large one going right past our noses that no politician seems prepared to go for. We’d get a fuckton more power more quickly from W2P than fracking in my view.

  19. Mark in Mayenne

    Er, no. It wasn’t. That was town gas. Hydrogen simply isn’t practical in this domain, even now. Certainly not then.

  20. Reminder: supposedly CO2 emissions whilst not in themselves the cause of global warming, increase temperature enough to cause and increase in water vapour which has a much bigger effect. So-called climate sensitivity. This increased temperature from tte water vapour causes more water vapour, more warming. So-called climate feed-back.

    So note: it is increased water vapour we need to avoid.

    Hydrogen burned in air = H2O = water vapour.

    Fact. The total ‘greenhouse effect’ is caused by water vapour, without which Planet Earth would be too cold for habitation.

    Exhibit A: Mars… 93% atmospheric CO2, 0% water vapour… freezing cold. Exhibit B: Earth… 0.03% atmospheric CO2, 2% to 4% water vapour… nice and toasty.

    Earth descends into ice ages because water vapour condenses and falls as snow and ice to be fixed in the Polar regions which expand. The decreasing water vapour reduces ‘greenhouse effect’ and advances cooling. (Reflection of incoming infra-red radiation by increasing ice extent adds to the cooling.) Why this process starts, and why it reverse is unknown by ‘scientists’.

    So in order to reduce fossil fuel CO2 emissions which have no measurable ‘greenhouse effect’, we are going to increase water vapour in the atmosphere which produces near all the ‘greenhouse effect’.

    We don’t need an experiment, we have evidence from experience.

  21. Well National grid actually is building a test project in Cumbria. They appear to have built a row of houses and will be testing from production to delivery to appliances using existing pipes, valves etc.

    The testing gets underway next year so we should know the answers to some of the questions in a few years’ time.

    It still appears to be a huge waste of resources, but I suppose we will eventually run out of NG and maybe H2 will have some role to play in future though personally I don’t see it.

  22. John B, “We don’t need an experiment, we have evidence from experience”.
    Exactly the argument to use the next time someone says the level of CO2 (420ppm) is near to triggering ‘runaway global warming’ when we know that for most of earths history CO2 has been waaaaaaaaay higher than that (around 7000ppm – The pre-Cambrian ‘Explosion of Life’).

  23. MC – the good thing about grass is the Americans probably won’t bomb it.

    Other than that, it looks like a fancy composting scheme that’ll provide a nice top up to gas supply, but probably won’t scale due to the low energy density of grass and huge quantities required even for a modest 5MW plant.

  24. Even if all the leakage issues with current distribution networks were magically solved, it still doesn’t alter the fact that hydrogen has a much lower energy density than methane. So to get the same level of energy transfer you’d have to increase the pressure in all those pipes…

  25. This whole “green” nightmare is purely politically driven and what anchor it has in any sort of reality is based on a profound misunderstanding of real world engineering.

    What, to a powerpoint “engineer” is a trivial afterthought, to a real engineer tasked with solving the real world problem can be a showstopper. There’s no need to go into detail. Those of you who are actual engineers will understand, likely having had to deal with this sort of thing many times previously.

    Just declaring that “the market” will decide – this “market being various restrictions and taxes imposed on what you don’t like, with “incentives” for what you do is almost as bad. These “incentives” will attract the grifters like flies to shite, as the plethora of “green” start up and snake oil salesman provide testimony (hells teeth, if I hear of one more giga tractor factory, battery “breakthrough” or wondrous new energy storage scheme!)

    What is surreal however, is that there is basically no allowance, hardly any acknowledgement that the real world exists as anything other than a weapon of the “far right” or “big….enter capitalistic demon of choice.

    The doubling down this winter is going to be fascinating

  26. I don’t know why we’re dicking about with alternative gases to burn. Sure, use renewables as best they can be used. Then just build a shedload of nuclear power station to provide the necessary backup Who knows, someone might eventually make fusion workable and then it’s problem solved.

    Energy crisis – nuke it.

  27. @BiTiN
    No. He’s right. Town gas did contain significant amounts of hydrogen. And the town gas era was also that of regular gas explosions.* Also that the amount being put through the pipes was far less than now. Gas was used for light & cooking. A small amount for heating & hot water. And gas piping was all heavy steel barrel with threaded joints sealed with jointing compound. Almost all gas piping in houses now is thin-wall copper, soldered joint or compression. Or latterly polythene.

    *Brings back memories of the Ascot in the shared bathroom down the passage from the bedsit I had in Gloucester Road. Had to turn the hot water tap on with extreme caution. Swedish bint I’d trapped went to run herself a bath. Came back looking like one of the Black & White Minstrels. Oh happy days!

  28. Kevin B: there is an argument for weaning ourselves off oil and gas as energy sources so we can preserve them as feedstocks to industrial processes for much longer. However the current mad rush to windmills and solar farms is definitely not the way to do it. It has to be nuclear fission of U & Pu in the first instance with Th later, and then fusion if we can ever get it to work economically.

    I guess hydrogen might form part of that energy mix but only locally – the main energy transmission would be by electricity.

  29. Mark, with you totally. Devil is in the details, which no one seems to have gone into yet. In Australia, the CEO of the Kurri Kurri gas power plant in planning has just been pushed out for telling the government that running 15-30% hydrogen through it just won’t work.

    For everyone else, I’m only an electrical engineer, but as I understand it they have add an odourant to gas so you can smell a leak. Is the idea now to replace that with a odourless, invisible gas, that will leak out of the pipes right through the walls? Or are there plans to fix that? Blimey, better not light my cigarette in the basement.

  30. What do the more scientific minds here think of “gas from grass”?

    Definitely not a scientific mind, but if you had a bit of land (say, like Jim) you could certainly get useful energy from grass.

    A couple of decades back there was a slot on a TV program that featured a guy in the New Forest who had a contract to clear undergrowth (ferns n’ shit) from woodland in the autumn. He kept some of it and deposited it in a concrete pit near his house. As it was laid down he placed plastic water piping (just hose, I think) amongst it. As the vegetation rotted down over the winter it created a lot of exothermic energy, which he used to heat his house (as well as pre-warm his hot water). He didn’t even need to pump the water round; the heat gradient took care of that.

    No farmer needs to be reliant on the grid for smokeless winter warmth.

  31. “A couple of decades back there was a slot on a TV program that featured a guy in the New Forest who had a contract to clear undergrowth (ferns n’ shit) from woodland in the autumn. He kept some of it and deposited it in a concrete pit near his house. As it was laid down he placed plastic water piping (just hose, I think) amongst it. As the vegetation rotted down over the winter it created a lot of exothermic energy, which he used to heat his house (as well as pre-warm his hot water). He didn’t even need to pump the water round; the heat gradient took care of that.”

    A good manure heap will generate some serious temperatures. Run a bit of polythene pipe through it, Bob’s your uncle. Trouble is that each heap would have a limited lifespan, so you’d need to remove said pipes, get rid of the now rotted manure and then install the pipes in a new heap. Bit of a faff for the average suburban house dweller.

  32. I think this winter in Germany will be a test case of what happens to politicians who freeze and starve the proles. Sri Lanka not being cold enough for the lesson to take.
    I don’t see the surviving politicians as backing any more cloud cuckoo land proposals such as this.

    Hydrogen, the Basil Brush of fuels.
    Boom! Boom!

  33. First, there is no problem will methanr fossil fuel gas.

    Second, why should ‘we’ have the honour of going first? Can’t we find some mug of a country with no methane of its own to get the dubious ‘first-mover advantage’. Then we’ll find it doesn’t work at no cost or inconvenience to us.

    Third, if this isn’t a perfect example of pile o’ money theory I will eat my hat.

  34. Bit of a faff for the average suburban house dweller.

    For sure, Jim. But for farmers and smallholders it could work, even people with very large gardens; those with access to light machinery and a bit of labour and who can happily deal with the rotted output. Even at current prices it’s still probably not worth a busy farmer taking the time. But I’m thinking about off-grid – as in there’s sustained no grid or a completely unreliable grid.

    A bit of faff a couple of days a year would be worth it to keep a household (and maybe some animals) toasty even if it’s -15C for a week. I’d do it just for the smug and fuck-you points.

  35. It’d be a case of actually working out how much energy is actually there. Maths There’s a maximum temperature for rotting vegetation. Also a minimum temperature. So that plus the cubic metres of manure would give you total energy available & the minimum, how much of that can be extracted. But the crucial figure is how much energy is being generated over time & thus what’s your energy extraction flow rate?
    Sure, manure heaps can get pretty hot. But that’s after they’ve been sitting for a while with the temperature building up.
    If you reverse the calculation that’d give you the size of manure heap you’d need to provide your energy needs. I’ve a suspicion that’s going to be a lot bigger than you think.

  36. It seems there is a few people experimenting with Hydrogen. One is The Hydrogen Village http://www.hydrogenvillage.com One potential test site in Redcar the other is in Ellesmere Port. They held a few meetings and the results were clear. The cost is going to end up more than normal gas and all the kit has to be converted. I’ve someone coming around to look at what I have so they can plan the conversion. Conversion costs will be paid by the supplier for the trial and, this is the interesting bit, the price will be capped at the current gas price. The implication being the costs will be higher when the testing has ended.

    They are not very informative. I’ve not heard anything since the last meeting a few months ago.

    We had lots of questions but the call was manned by sales people so they didn’t have any of the answers.

  37. LOL. After saying I hadn’t heard from them I checked my EMail and there was an new survey. They must read this site.

  38. Lord T: yes, sales people. That’s the problem, they put them up so they don’t have to answer the hard questions. Punters can be fobbed off, but I wonder if the investors got a more accurate tale?

  39. “What anchor it has in any sort of reality is based on a profound misunderstanding of real world engineering”

    Because none of the politicians making these barmy decisions have any engineering background. They probably didn’t even do physics at school.

    “Almost all gas piping in houses now is thin-wall copper, soldered joint or compression”

    The compression fittings which seem to be favoured rely on a single “O” ring to make the seal, which (to me) is in no way as safe (or long lasting) as a proper soldered joint. But soldering takes longer to do, and requires a higher degree of skill…

    “*Brings back memories of the Ascot”

    We had one in the kitchen: more than once the gas valve didn’t close properly after a hot water tap was turned off, and a few seconds later the low melting point safety plug gave way, followed by clouds of boiling water & steam!

  40. “What do the more scientific minds here think of “gas from grass”?”

    Feasible, but in their setup not efficient as they’re focussing entirely on methane and are missing a couple of tricks.
    Also tricky to get going as continuous-flow process.

    The most …frustrating.. thing about stuff like this is that to do it efficiently, you’d have the Green Woo crowd all over you like a ton of bricks, simply because you’d be using the many-evil GMO’s and other Unnatural Stuff to make things go.

    Heh.. Anyone got a couple million to spare to try and build a real trial plant?

  41. We had one in the kitchen: more than once the gas valve didn’t close properly after a hot water tap was turned off, and a few seconds later the low melting point safety plug gave way, followed by clouds of boiling water & steam!

    This particular one, one had to be careful to only turn the hot tap sufficiently for the gas flow to start & be ignited by the pilot light. If you turned on full, the gas stream didn’t touch the pilot, so would fill up he chimney until there was sufficient gas to back-up & be lit. So a very loud woof, a sheet of flame would mushroom across the ceiling & the bathroom would be filled with soot. These were the days when landlords never had anything inspected. The functioned or they didn’t. In which case it might takes weeks for repair. Ascots exploded, wall sockets caught fire, sash windows abruptly fell down in their frames scattering glass all over the bed. Heating was supplied by a minuscule gas fire & sixpence in the slot, just big enough to toast one slice of bread. I used to sunbathe on a 18″ wide windowsill, 6 floors up. Wonderfully, we all survived.

  42. ‘residents who switch to hydrogen for the programme won’t be expected to pay for any changes that may be required as a direct result.’

    Does this mean that they’ll have to pay when they switch back at the end of the programme? Or is this simply my paranoia coming to the fore again.

  43. ‘residents who switch to hydrogen for the programme won’t be expected to pay for any changes that may be required as a direct result.’

    Does this mean that they’ll have to pay when they switch back at the end of the programme? Or is this simply my paranoia coming to the fore again.

    As the system needs entire streets to be converted. You can’t just do No 1 and No 12. It has to be everyone on the entire pipeline together so it will be interesting to see what happens at the end. They will either convert everyone or leave everyone. The questions was asked but they said they hadn’t thought about that far ahead. I called BS politely as someone has.

    To my paranoid mind when someone won’t answer it is because you won’t like what they would be saying.

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