For many, the realities of the battle against climate change remain an abstract, arms-length issue.
It makes little practical difference to the average consumer whether the electricity used to keep the lights on is generated by offshore renewables or coal fired power plant.
But recent tabloid talk of a “boiler ban” has bought the implications of the UK’s net zero push firmly into the nation’s living rooms, and perhaps also caused heating engineers and plumbers a few sleepless nights.
The outcry was prompted by the International Energy Agency and CBI's recent warnings that conventional gas boilers should be banned from sale by 2025. The UK government, which is making green issues a priority as it gears up to host the COP26 climate summit later this year, is widely expected to back the proposal in its soon to be unveiled heat and buildings strategy.
It is of course possible that Boris Johnson’s famed populist tendencies could prompt a watering down of these ambitions but there’s no escaping the fact that decarbonisation of heating - which accounts for as much as 17 per cent of the UK carbon emissions - will be key to delivering on the UK’s accelerated net zero ambitions.
A switch to low carbon heating will require a range of different technologies from improved insulation through to district heating schemes, heat pumps, heat batteries and even - as previously reported by The Engineer - geothermal sources that tap into the heat trapped in flooded, abandoned mines. But it seems increasingly likely that one of the main elements will be a shift from natural gas to hydrogen fuelled boilers – a transition that will ultimately require most home owners to install new boilers.
As we report in our June issue, achieving this presents a significant, but not insurmountable, technical challenge. Indeed, experts talk of a phased switchover akin to the UK’s towns gas conversion of the 1960s and 70s. The biggest challenge, given the tone of recent newspaper headlines, might be persuading the general public that it’s a good idea.