Fuelling the Future
For a while now, electrifying home heating systems has been the most popular strategy to decarbonise heat.
However, with up to 80% of todays’ heat demand being met by the gas network, that would be a significant challenge. Using our 2050 Pathfinder simulator, and through collaboration with others, we set to work on testing the feasibility of fully electrified heating.
Can it meet the challenges?
We put a range of electrification scenarios into our 2050 Pathfinder, testing against the three big energy challenges:
While it’s a sustainable solution, the results show that it’s very difficult to strike a balance with electrification alone.
An affordable electric heating system still comes at a price: decreased reliability, with lengthy periods of power cuts.
And for electrification to be reliable, a sizeable investment in low carbon generation and battery storage would be needed – which would significantly increase energy bills.
They took into account existing assumptions of how we would decarbonise heat – through electrification.
Here’s how they compare:
Scenario 1 (today):
Reliance on natural gas and solid fuel
Scenario 2 (future):
Scenario 2 (future):
A practical change?
Strategic decisions aside, there are also practical issues to consider, for the networks, supplier and customers.
In homes and businesses
Wholesale switching to electrification will require the conversion of existing home heating systems, plus an intensive programme of insulation measures. And who will pay for this? With the cost being fed through energy bills, there’s a big impact on customers.
Upgrading the electricity network to be able to meet the electrical demand for heating would be disruptive, with extensive work required across the UK. The noise, inconvenience and environmental impact on communities would be significant.
So what can we do?
It’s clear that full electrification cannot decarbonise heat in a way that balances reliability and affordability. That’s why we’ve been working collaboratively to fill in the gaps.
As a partner in the H21 project, we’ve been exploring the feasibility of the conversion of the existing gas network in 17 cities across the UK to hydrogen. With hydrogen produced by steam methane reformers in the short term before global low carbon hydrogen markets take off, this could be done with minimal impact on customers’ bills.
A missing link?
With the majority of homes outside cities, our research made it clear another option was needed. It’s time to look at Smart Hybrid.