Jacob Young is the Conservative MP for Redcar.
As Conservatives, we should be proud of the action we have taken in Government to combat climate change.
We have an unrivalled track record of success in protecting our environment, dating back to Margaret Thatcher being the first world leader to put climate change at the top of the agenda. It was also a Conservative government that led the world in being the first major economy to enshrine its net zero emissions target into law in 2019. When it comes to tackling climate change, Conservatives get things done.
Fast forward to the present day and the challenge of meeting net zero can be encapsulated by the task we have to decarbonise heat in our homes. The decarbonisation of heat is an area where net zero and levelling up are one and the same. Hydrogen for example, has the potential to create 75,000 new jobs by 2035 and should be part of the mosaic of heating solutions we need to meet our legally binding net zero commitments.
As the Government prepares to publish the Heat and Buildings Strategy, we must ensure that customers who are unable to switch away from their gas boilers straight away are not penalised. We currently have 23 million households across the country that rely upon a safe and affordable supply of gas to their homes and by punishing these customers, we would be failing to deliver a just energy transition.
Finding a cost-effective solution that is tailored to their needs and expectations will be one of the biggest challenges we face as a country over the next decade. As well as accelerating heat pump deployment, for many customers a potential solution could be a repurposed gas network that supplies hydrogen to heat their homes and plans are now gathering pace to make this a reality.
Inside the home, hydrogen will require no major home modifications with customers upgrading to a hydrogen ready boiler when their boiler reaches the end of its natural life. Installation could neatly dovetail into the yearly replacement of 1.6 million gas boilers that takes place in the UK.
Hydrogen ready boilers are already being developed by British manufacturers, with early estimates suggesting they will be £50 more expensive that gas boilers. The Government can stimulate demand for the market by mandating manufacturers to develop hydrogen ready boilers only by 2025, paving the way for full conversion away from gas.
Outside of the home, Britain’s gas networks are already two thirds of the way through a programme to replace old metal pipes with hydrogen-ready plastic piping. By 2032, the gas network will be fully hydrogen ready. Networks and appliance manufacturers have also been undertaking a series of projects to test how hydrogen behaves in a variety of different settings and environments.
From testing the blending up to 20 per cent of hydrogen into the existing gas grid to how we will transport 100 per cent renewable hydrogen from offshore wind turbines all the way to people’s living rooms with projects like HyDeploy, H21 and H100. These projects have shown that using our gas grid to deliver hydrogen for households to use for heating, hot water and cooking is fundamentally safe.
A trial beginning next year will bring hydrogen to the home of 300 customers in Fife, another trial in Redcar & Cleveland will demonstrate hydrogen in an existing gas network, and in Gateshead we have built the UK’s first houses with appliances fuelled entirely by hydrogen through the Government’s Hy4Heat program; all offering a glimpse at how our homes can be heated in the future.
We all recognise that achieving net zero is the right thing to do to make us cleaner, safer and healthier. It is also a tangible part of our levelling up agenda, as the right investment framework can enable the shoots of a green recovery to spearhead economic prosperity after Covid-19.
But this should not come at the expense of customers. We cannot punish those who have been reliant on their gas boilers for generations to be left with unaffordable costs to heat their homes in the future. Our policy decisions need to reflect the types of properties and needs customers have right across the country.
We are going to need both heat pumps and hydrogen to heat our homes in the future and following the publication of the Heat and Buildings Strategy, the Government should kick-start investment in the supply chain for low carbon technologies, to drive down costs and accelerate the conversion to net zero solutions.
To truly deliver a fair and just transition for customers, we need to level with them about the types of changes that will be required in all of our homes if we are to achieve net zero. The type of technology used to heat our homes isn’t as important as informing the public, building support for net zero and offering real choice about the solution that best suits each customer’s home.
We are the party of net zero and we now have an opportunity to follow through on our rich history of action by delivering a policy framework that enables all technologies to flourish.