This article is part the Climate Solutions special report, which examines efforts worldwide to make a positive difference.
Bibba Thompson, 75 older adults who live in a northern England local government housing community, don’t look like revolutionaries.
But they are cheerfully taking part in a home energy trial that is billed by organizers as part of a new “green industrial revolution,” one they hope will put their little community at the forefront of global energy changes for the second time in three centuries.
Ms. Thompson (58), and her neighbors in Winlaton on the hilltop, outside Newcastle, have had gas heaters and stoves fuelled with a blend of up to 20% hydrogen, since August. Why? To reduce The climate-warming gasses, such as carbon dioxide, are,They emit radiation.
As the host of the United Nations climate talks in Glasgow, the British government has committed to one of the world’s most ambitious emission reduction targets, pledging to slash greenhouse gases by 78 percent by 2035. It must also take action in the area of home heating.
Trials have been conducted in Australia and elsewhere with lower levels of hydrogen in fuel blends. The Netherlands allows blends up to 12 percent. However, the gas network operators who organized the Winlaton trial at 670 homes claim this is the first time. A 20 percent hydrogen mixture has been added to an existing gas grid using normal gas appliances.
The firms argue that it is an important step toward reducing Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions, and they hope it will encourage the eventual use of 100 percent hydrogen in the home heaters that the government says account for about 14 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.
With the government concentrating on supporting the use of hydrogen for industrial customers rather than home heating, the gas companies are desperate for their huge pipe networks to retain a central role in the nation’s heating, and part of their strategy is to convince the public that switching to hydrogen would be clean, easy, cheap and safe.
“A few people were dubious at first about ‘Is my boiler going to blow up?’ but it has all gone well and they are quite chuffed with it now,” said Ms. Thompson, who lives on site and manages the 55-unit complex for people over 65.“The older ones think that cleaning up the environment is great for their grandkids, and it really strikes a chord here because of our history,” she said. “We might be just a little village but we have got a big coal heritage.”
Winlaton played a significant role in the era of first mass-release of fossil fuels.
A few hundred meters from Ms. Thompson’s housing project, just behind the library on Church Street, sits a 330-year-old forge, the last remnant of an operation that made Winlaton a crucial site in the Industrial Revolution.
Ambrose Crowley established the forge in 1691. It was part of a larger enterprise that produced iron goods for the Royal Navy. It was many years before the inventions such as the steam engine or other machines that are often regarded as the beginning the Industrial Revolution.
Val Scully, a trustee of the local heritage center, said that Mr. Crowley’s key contribution was to pioneer mass production techniques and the creation of an industrial working class, who toiled side by side on weekly salaries. It was this system which allowed the inventions to flourish over the next decades and unleashed the genie in coal power, something that most of the world is desperately trying to reclaim.
Tim Harwood, Northern Gas Networks’ head of hydrogen projects, stated that northeast England is in good shape. a chance to be the home of “the next industrial revolution, a green one.”
The region is an important center for offshore wind energy, and the government sees the industrial clusters surrounding Newcastle and Hull in the area as the centers of what it hopes to be a conversion of clean-burning hydrogen.
Hydrogen’s lower calorific value means that rolling out a 20 percent blend to all natural gas customers would reduce their emissions from heating by 7 percent, trimming about 1 percent from total emissions in Britain. The big payoff would come with a switch to pure hydrogen, which could slice more than a tenth off the nation’s emissions. But it would also require the installation of millions of new appliances — an enormous challenge.
Mr. Harwood said blending is “just a steppingstone and a way of stimulating the switch over to hydrogen.”
Many analysts and ministers doubt that the nation can produce enough hydrogen in the future to be able to distribute it beyond heavy industries.
The challenges include getting the costs of production down quickly enough to reduce the subsidies needed to make hydrogen price-competitive and moving as quickly as possible from “blue hydrogen,” which is made with methane and requires the capture and underground storage of its own carbon emissions, to the cleaner “green hydrogen,” which needs more electricity to produce but has no carbon emissions.
The gas operators are trying to speed things up, and are keen not to be bypassed in the government’s drive to install the potentially cleaner electric heat pumps that are already popular in continental Europe.
“If you think about the 23 million customers in the U.K. that have a gas supply, we’re hoping to penetrate up to 16 million customers with hydrogen,” Mr. Harwood said.
“You couldn’t put a heat pump in most Winlaton homes,” he said, “because the housing stock is old, leaky and cold, and heat pumps don’t produce enough heat without special insulation.”
Current programs to upgrade gas networks by replacing metal pipes by hydrogen-ready plastic should be completed by time enough hydrogen is being made to allow for switching to pure hydrogen heating. Mr. Harwood said that the gas companies want to see the government mandate that all new gas boilers be capable of converting to hydrogen as soon possible.
The government has already announced plans for a “hydrogen village” trial in which about 2,000 properties will run on pure hydrogen from 2025, to be followed by a “hydrogen town” of up to 15,000 properties by 2030, but Mr. Harwood said the gas operators would prefer to see that schedule sped up.
Dave Tully, a 63-year-old former military policeman who lives in a two-bedroom terrace house in Winlaton, said he received leaflets about the 10-month trial and a free safety inspection of his appliances but he still felt “railroaded” into taking part.
“I think it was going to go ahead no matter what the public thought, but in the end that’s probably fair enough,” he said. “It turns out it hasn’t changed the way our cooker or heater work at all and I suppose we have to do something about climate change, so this sort of thing is probably necessary.”
The hydrogen campaign in Winlaton included invitations for two display homes where locals could see the 100 percent hydrogen stoves, heaters, and other gas appliances. The only difference is that the flame comes from the hydrogen stoves and heaters. burners is orange rather than blue and has a broader “sunflower” shape to distribute the heat more widely, as hydrogen is lighter and its heat tends to rise more quickly.
Mr. Harwood stated that he hoped to see the new flames heating British cups for tea in a decade.
Source: NY Times