This Editor's Comment is from our July/August 2019 issue.

Although no-one knows what the future holds for the heating industry, many of us are starting to draw our own conclusions. With a growing acceptance of the threat of climate change, and ever more stringent environmental targets, fossil fuel usage is going to need to be cut back drastically. However, the question remains – what is going to be used to heat our homes?

As an engineer, it is very likely that, in the coming years, you will be installing systems which are powered only minimally by fossil fuels, or perhaps by renewable sources entirely. Although that’s not likely to come as a major shock to many of you, as sources like electricity already power a significant number of the boilers, cylinders, and heat pumps in UK homes, it will still have an impact on how you do your job.

At the top level of industry, there’s a battle going on to influence which technology will be the dominant one going forward. Out of those options, electricity is arguably the most well-established. 

It’s been around the longest, and technologies such as heat pumps are becoming more the norm – although, as our lead news story on p6 shows, many engineers still don’t feel confident installing these types of systems.

However, saying that, hydrogen is quickly making up ground. There are currently a number of projects across the UK examining the viability of hydrogen, such as H21 Leeds City Gate, Hy4Heat, and HyDeploy at Keele University. 

Hydrogen can be blended in with natural gas in our existing gas pipelines, which advocates of hydrogen have been quick to pick up on as making it a fuel source that can be implemented with minimal disruption.

Biofuels are also another potential option. I attended the OFTEC conference held in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire last month, and heard that independent research by In Perpetuum Partners found that biofuels could act as a low cost, high impact carbon reduction solution for oil-heated homes (more info on p10). Although the biofuel industry is very much in its infancy compared to other options, this research no doubt gives the likes of OFTEC leverage in its attempts to lobby government.

Many industry voices I’ve spoken to suggest any solution will involve a mix but, until the government fires the starting gun on its preferred solution, it’s anyone’s game.