COP26 — what a load of old baloney and hot air! The world’s largest collective public relations jamboree, where world leaders arrived at a climate conference in private jets. Our glorious leader, the prime minister, rose to the occasion, as a Yorkshire pudding rises in the oven. Other leaders followed suit, each one rising to the occasion, until there was enough hot air to launch an airship. Which brings us conveniently to the first climate change fallacy: that hydrogen will solve our green house gas woes. Domestic gas boilers, we are told, are already hydrogen ready, or will only need minor tweaks to burn hydrogen. Perhaps those promoting hydrogen as the solution might care to reflect on what happened to a hydrogen ready airship in the 1930s, the Hindenburg. It didn’t end well. But even if modern technology can prevent your neighbour’s new loft conversion — hydrogen, like hot air, rises — from doing a Hindenburg, and we punters can be persuaded to use rocket fuel to heat our homes, the fact remains we are a long way from being able to use hydrogen to heat our homes.

In the UK, heating buildings account for a third of all energy consumption, and residential heating accounts for a quarter of all carbon dioxide emissions. The percentages vary, depending on how you do the accounting — for example, does residential heating include emissions from national grid non-green electricity generation — but these figures are good enough for our purposes. This alone makes burning any non-carbon fuel in domestic boilers an attractive proposition, but in reality, there is only one candidate, hydrogen, but there is a major problem: there is no way yet of making cheap clean hydrogen. Well over 90% of today’s commercial hydrogen production comes from dirty processes that extract hydrogen from fossil fuels, and churn out carbon green house gas by-products, a non-starter.

The only green way to produce clean hydrogen is to use green electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. On paper, it’s perfect — not a waste carbon molecule in sight — but in practice it is doomed, for two reasons. The first is that in the short to medium term, the green process is ruinously expensive, costing about (as ever, estimates vary greatly, depending on assumptions about the cost of the green electricity used) four times as much as both hydrogen from fossil fuels and natural gas, ruling it out as a viable means of producing energy. But even if the price comes down, which it will — our numerology friends at Imperial College have come up with a figure of 5.2–8.6p/kWh, compared to around 5p/kWh for natural gas — there is a second fundamental problem: the whole idea is inherently inefficient, because it adds an unnecessary intermediary step, the production of hydrogen. Rather than use green electricity to generate hydrogen, which is in turn used to heat homes, it will always be more efficient — some suggest by a factor of five — to use the original green energy to heat homes directly.

Hydrogen has other problems, notably in distribution. Not all homes are on the gas grid, and those that are often have decades old iron supply pipes, which may be vulnerable to hydrogen attack, and subsequent Hindenburg disasters, if the pipes are not replaced. There are also unknown unknowns in the transfer of hydrogen use from tightly controlled industrial process to the chaos of everyday living in domestic homes. The bottom line is that while hydrogen may have potential, as things stand today, and into the near to medium future, there is no way the UK can be considered hydrogen ready in any meaningful sense.

Domestic heating matters. It is one of the essential building blocks of a habitable home. Though not as immediately essential to life as air, food and water, domestic heating is essential to avoid the health consequences of living in cold damp homes. Cold damp homes cause and aggravate respiratory illnesses, as well as increasing the risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes. And yet, in short order — perhaps by 2025 for new builds and those of the mains gas grid, and perhaps 2035, perhaps  sooner, for all homes — all new and replacement domestic fossil fuel boilers will be banned. These targets get widely quoted and misquoted. The former, new and off gas grid homes, is clearly visible here as phasing out ‘the installation of high carbon fossil fuel heating in new and existing homes currently off the gas grid during the 2020s’, the latter is harder to pin down, though it is worth noting that the OECD based International Energy Agency said in July of this year that ‘In buildings, bans

on new fossil fuel boilers need to start being introduced globally in 2025′, clearly setting the tone for likely future developments. Dr No’s hunch is the new/off gas grid homes ban will start to bite in 2025, and the all homes ban in 2030, possibly earlier.

Let’s put this in some perspective. At present, over 90% of UK residents use a fossil fuel to heat their homes. Within a decade or so, none of these heating system will be able to replace like with like when the current boiler needs replacement. Hydrogen we have already seen is not a currently viable option; nor are the fitful supplies from domestic solar panels and wind turbines. For the vast majority of home, that only leaves one option: the erstwhile ephemeral ASHP, or air source heat pump. These work like air conditioning units running in reverse: instead of taking heat from inside, and dumping it outside, they take heat from the outside, and pump it back inside. They use very well established technology, that used not just in air conditioning units, but in domestic fridges and freezers, but at the same time they have their own raft of problems, but they will still remain, for the vast majority of homes, the least bad option.

The main problem with ASHPs is that, while they can be very efficient — you will see ‘impossible’ efficiency figures like 300% or 400%, but all this means is that for each electrical energy unit put in, you get three or four units back, with the added units drawn from the outside air — they are not very effective. Fossil fuel boilers typically pump out heating water at 70 or even 80 degrees C, but ASHPs are usually  set to produce flow temperatures at getting on for half a fossil fuel boiler’s output, typically at around 40 degrees C. In simple terms they pump out less heat, and this has two important consequences. The first is they work best in energy efficient homes, with low heat losses, and secondly, they need bigger radiators, to deliver more heat to the rooms. They are also expensive to install, with costs typically in the £10,000 to £15,000 range for a three bedroom house.

Immediately we hit problems. Having established that, for many homes, ASHPs are really the only viable option, we now find there are plenty of reasons not to install them: lack of effectiveness, especially in energy inefficient homes (EPC Grade D or less, and many of them with not much that can be done about it), which make up about two thirds of the UK’s housing stock, disruptive installations, and huge costs. No wonder the UK’s ASHP installation performance to date has been abysmal. The UK has 29 million homes. In 2019, 27,000 heat pumps were installed, a rate of one in a thousand homes, or 0.1%. At that rate, it will take the best part of 1,000 years to convert the UK to heat pumps. Boris Johnson’s Thousand Year Reich of a Thousand Heat Pumps Not Being Installed. By comparison, as tens of thousands of heat pumps were not installed in 2019, 100,000 additional homes were connected to the gas network, and 1.7 million replacement boilers were installed, a rate of over 60 fossil fuel boilers for every heat pump installed. Provisional figures for 2020 indicate around 37,000 heat pumps were installed, with around 45 fossil fuel boilers for every one heat pump installed. 

At the same time that the government achieved derisory numbers of heat pump installations, it announced, without even a hint of the absurd, plans to install ‘600,000 heat pump installations per year by 2028’. In parallel, it has mal-administered a baffling array green home grant schemes, each one moreabsurd than the last. Dr No happens to believe that domestic heat pumps are the least bad option if we are to wean ourselves off fossil fuels. If the UK government is likewise serious — sometimes Dr No has his doubts — about moving the UK’s domestic heating onto a greener footing, it needs to stop throwing tens of billions of pounds at Dildo Harding’s disastrous test and trace farce, and divert the money into brute force bureaucracy free grant funding to get heat pumps into homes at a sensible rate. Without that commitment, we face the prospect of homes freezing over as we wait for the dawn of Boris Johnson’s Thousand Year Reich of a Thousand Heat Pumps Not Being Installed.             


  1. Tom Welsh Reply

    Ironic, isn’t it, that all this fuss appears to be in the interests of preventing it from getting a degree or two WARMER?

  2. steve Reply

    You are correct Dr No

    As an ex engineer and energy management consultant, those annoying people who block up our roads are likely correct. Having passive insulation makes huge sense because so much energy is lost in the winter as heat and so much energy is absorbed during the summer, and we melt.

    ASHP won’t work unless a home is properly insulated, has the correct pipe sizes (many new homes do not), low flow radiators and places to store hot water.

    Homes with combi boilers are possibly going to regret taking away their hot water tanks!

    External insulation is very good but also very costly, internal insulation is less expensive, but you will need to move radiators etc. Mind you, that is easy when you have to replace all your pipes after digging up floorboards! By the way, the cavity which could be insulated may indeed be a heat sink if water gets to it.

    My wife and I were considering ASHP but after consulting her brother who is a plumber and gas engineer it seems unlikely for all the reasons stated.

    Hydrogen may fulfil part of a solution, but it won’t completely replace carbon created gas for technical reasons. We might get to a 10% hydrogen mix.

    Our home’s energy performance certificate is rated as B, and even that is probably not sufficient for ASHP.

    I’m waiting for the government or even the shadow government to have a joined up strategy. It would be so easy for the Government to create a program to insulate all homes to an A rating.

    However, based on previous observations, I have a suspicion this will never happen.

    By the way, money isn’t the problem, it’s lack of thinking which is a problem!

  3. djc Reply

    There is no need to do anything, it’s a scam all the way down. In assuming there is any real climate problem to address, you are making to many concessions to the lunatics.
    I had thought better of you Dr No.

  4. John B Reply

    Hydrogen: 96% of the so-called green house effect comes from water vapour. What do you get when you burn H2 in air… H20 – water vapour the biggest green house gas.

    Hydrogen is highly reactive which is why there is no free hydrogen on Earth, why most of it is in the sea. The molecule is very small so it is very tricksy to store and transport and is highly corrosive. It burns at high temperature with an invisible flame.

    Heat pumps: personal experience in France. Installed cost 11 000€ for an air/water unit. Heat output was 55C through existing underfloor heating. It worked really well because underfloor heating operates at 40C. It reduced heating costs by 50% because it replaced oil fired heating (no piped gas available) which was expensive. I doubt it would offer the same economy compared to piped natural gas.

    I got a Government grant of about 4 000€ and the cost amortised over 5 years because of savings in oil costs.

    And… they make a noise and for a three/four bedroom house will be big.

  5. Tom Welsh Reply

    As of now (about 0755 on Monday 8/11/2021) the UK Energy Dashboard shows that we are getting 10% of our energy needs from wind. Gas is supplying 54%, with good old nuclear contributing its usual reliable 17%. Solar is too little to show on the pie chart.

    Yesterday, wind was shown as providing 54% at one point, and gas correspondingly less. The trouble is – even with all those gigantic windmills – it’s not reliable. And that’s without having to recharge 10 million vehicles every night.

  6. dr-no Reply

    Tom – it was already a long post so somethings were deliberately left out. You are absolutely right, solar and wind are too fickle, and any chemical based battery storage solutions means condemning third world children to go down the mines.

    John B – Dr No is in a similar domestic situation, only here in the UK. Off mains gas, ancient oil system at the end of its useful life (done >25 years so can live with that), small old listed building, what are the realistic options, given all the constraints? Dr No had to conclude an ASHP was the least bad option. Whether it is wise to pursue a least bad option is a moot point…

    djc – the post is an attempt to say the whole thing is lunacy from top to bottom. Look at the opening sentence! Climate is changing, it always has, nothing new there, some of it may or may not be man made. As ever, Dr No is a sceptic, and the climatologists have a habit of acting as a cabal, which inevitably invites scepticism. As one of Dr No’s readers pointed out recently, not so long ago there was a geologic period called the carboniferous period, and the clue is in the name.

    This post started out titled Climageddon, and its main thrust was the possibility that covid was merely the warm up for the main event, climate change. There are certainly similarities. The declaration of a global emergency, and then the imposition by governments of fiats and diktats of extraordinary disruption. Dr No then found the word Climageddon had been used before, to mean there was a proven emergency, and as that didn’t align with his point, he ditched it, and changed the thrust of the post to pointing out, perhaps not very well, the lunacy of declaring an emergency, and issuing diktats in response, without having the slightest will or means to enable ordinary folk to respond (echos again of the covid response – tank the NHS, education, small business etc, and no effective way of dealing with it).

    The various Green Home Grant schemes have all so far being spectacular failures. The numbers in the post give a indication of how spectacular the failure has been. The Green Home Voucher scheme, the one that ended suddenly in March of this year, was little more than a government endorsed scam. Cowboy firms could rock up at little old ladies homes and tell them they needed this and that, all at great expense, but, do you know what, there is a government scheme to pay for it! In goes the quote priced at £4,999 for work that will cost the installer £999 to do. Nice work if you can get it. It was so predictable that the only two viable conclusions are that either (a) the government is even thicker than we thought it was, and didn’t spot it, of (b) they were complicit, and knew exactly what they were doing: a sort of variation on Matt Hancock’s jobs for m’mates down the pub.

    Steve – passive insulation makes sense on paper, of course it does, where it falls apart, like the wet paper it is written on, is in practice. Most (~70%) of the UK’s housing stock is energy inefficient (EPC band D or less), and practically there is precious little that can be done about it except adding some loft insulation and sticking some old socks in door and window cracks. Things like solid wall insulation are, as you say, ruinously expensive, and/or hugely disruptive and/or unacceptable in, for example, listed buildings. It is just not a viable let alone practical solution. All of the homes bar one or two that Dr No can see from his front and back garden all have exactly the same problems: substantial upgrading of insulation is not a viable option.

    Heating calculations come into the same category as economics, another example of a discipline that makes astrology look rigorous. Dr No had the pleasure of designing and installing the original central heating here, back in the 1980s (coal fired then, converted to oil in the 1990s) , so he does know how the calculations are done. It is basically all physics and thermodynamics, and so should be very exact, but in practice it is nothing of the sort, because all sorts of assumptions have to be made. What is the U value of that wall? Is it the same as that wall? How do we average out the different loft insulations? How many air changes to add to account for the leaky window and door frames? It is a very inexact science.

    To give an idea of how inexact, consider the proposals and quotes Dr No has had over the last year for a conversion from oil (with fossil fuel sized rads) to an ASHP based system. All the quotes come from fully accredited installers, and so all meet MCS and other requirements (or rather, claim they do). It’s a complete and utter farce. Proposals ranged from it can’t be done at one end (the ASHPs don’t work in old buildings argument) to all Dr No needs is a new plug and play AHSP and Bob’s your uncle, job’s done, at the other end. In between, there was a hybrid system (ASHP, new rads plus a backup LPG boiler for colder days – FFS…), and various permutations of radiator ‘upgrades’, a good many of which were impossible, because you can’t fit a 3.5 metre radiator on a wall that is 3 metres long. One installer even managed to produce a system performance document (compares old system costs with new system costs among other things) that had a typo – 7p per litre for oil, rather than 70p, and so the old (oil) system was shown as costing £220pa to run. An innocent typo, perhaps, but why didn’t they spot the error. You can barely heat a pair of Dr No’s old socks for £220pa, let alone an old energy inefficient house – but, hey ho, the installers left the £220 as it was. Dr No repeats, all these installers were fully accredited installers, putting forward proposals that would meet MCS requirements.

    For the technically minded and/or those doing their own battles with ASHPs, Dr No concluded that using a 55 degree C flow temperature, and a radiator upsizing factor of 2 (double the output of the fossil fuel matched rads) gives a viable chance of achieving a good enough system, with a SCOP of around 3.3. It will struggle on very cold days, but Dr No can live with that, because, as is so central to all this, what are the alternatives?

  7. Ed P Reply

    An alternative is a split-unit heat pump which blows warm air into rooms (or can be reversed, to provide cold air in summer). Systems may have 3 to 4 indoor units fed from one outdoor unit, each indoor one individually controllable. So it’s much easier and cheaper: strip out the old radiators, install wall or ceiling-mounted indoor units (with small pipework connections).
    Of course, this does not provide hot water…

  8. Tom Welsh Reply

    As I said before, all the current hysterical nonsense will look even stranger if we presently get a *lot* of very cold days. Hanging those responsible would be very cold comfort.

    I keep remembering “Fallen Angels”, the 1993 SF novel by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Michael Flynn which depicted a world of the near future which has succumbed – very suddenly – to a new Ice Age. In this strange, hostile, frozen world scientists have to hide and disguise their identity like communists in 1950s USA or Catholic priests in Elizabethan England, because the people are convinced that scientists in general are responsible for their plight. If found, even a biologist or a geologist is lynched – no questions asked.

    • Tom Welsh Reply

      In such a world, as you can imagine, I suppose that there would turn out to be absolutely NO climate scientists at all. For the same reasons that every second person is one today.

  9. Tish Farrell Reply

    The IPCC climate crisis is based on a range of modelled (as in proposed, projected, prophesied) scenarios, based on incomplete data (e.g. it is difficult to model all important activities of clouds, volcanoes, oceans and the sun, or to come up with something that fits the entire globe). Some climate scientists claim these models are ‘running too hot’. Independent scientist, James Lovelock, came to this conclusion about his own model a couple of years ago.

    Some of us will remember that in the 1970s the international scientific community was mooting a coming Ice Age crisis. I was a student studying prehistory at the time, so the notion did not surprise me. The climate across the globe has always changed though not uniformly; we’ve had warmer and colder eras – climate fluctuations, and periods of climate variation typified by what we humans connote as extreme weather conditions e.g. a prolonged period of drought.

    Here is a 1948 quote from eminent glacier and climate fluctation geologist Hans W:Son Ahlmann. He is examining the academic climate fluctation debate that took off in the 1920s:
    “Transitional between variations of primary importance and fluctuations we have the climatic changes which have taken place since the last pleistocene glaciation, in post-glacial and historical times. As regards these latter climatic variations I need only say that results obtained by paleobotanical examination of Scandinavian peat bogs have taught us that throughout the Bronze Age, the Iron Age and our so-called historical times the climatic curve has risen and fallen between eras unfavourable to man and others approaching the climatic glory of the Stone Age” He also discusses the shrinking and expansion of Iceland’s glaciers during the early Middle Ages and farming in Western Greenland before 1400

    There’s a good current round up of climate complexities at Dr Judith Curry’s blog:

    Given that drastic and costly, and for many, unaffordable energy systems may well be forced on humanity, you’d think/hope/plead that the mainstream media might just manage to offer us some kind of reasoned and scientifically informed debate on the IPCC’s ‘science’. But then if we’ve learned anything from the last 18 months, we might begin to suspect that governments are yet again trying to impose solutions before most of us have even the remotest understanding of the problem; or can even work out if it is the right one.

    Science is never settled, but it is being silenced.

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