The Institution of Gas Engineers and Managers, the chartered body representing the gas industry, has reacted to a think tank report that suggests the use of gas to heat buildings could fall by 75 to 95% by 2050.
IGEM president elect Chris Clarke and technical services manager Keith Needham were present at the release of the report at Westminster on 17 November, to take part in a cross-party debate on how the UK will heat its homes and buildings in the future.
The debate coincides with the launch of Pathways for Heat: Low Carbon Heat for Buildings released by Carbon Connect and is the first of two reports that will make up the Future Heat Series sponsored by IGEM.
IGEM is pleased that the need to review what we currently understand about the challenge of decarbonisation has been recognised and supports many of the recommendations the report proposes.
However, Mr Clarke said IGEM is sceptical about some of the report’s predictions for the future of heat, given the rich 200 year history of the UK’s gas industry and the billions that have been invested in supporting that industry to date.
“The Institution acknowledges the need to transform the way we heat our homes and buildings if the UK is to stand any chance of meeting the ambitious carbon reduction targets that have been set and agrees that the next government should set heat as a policy priority for the next decade," he said.
“In common with the report, IGEM believes that there is currently no one solution to cutting emissions from building heat and that the future will require a mix of technologies and fuels, of which gas is critical.”
However, he added that the Institution is concerned that many of the pathways examined in this report suggest a significant reduction in the use of gas for heating (up to 95% against current use) by 2050.
A central question that remains to be answered and requires much more research is which, if any, of the pathways will be cost effective and practical to deliver safe, reliable, efficient, low carbon heating that is affordable to the masses.
“It is essential that the issue of affordability is not overlooked. Achieving carbon targets should not come at the expense of increasing numbers of individuals living in fuel poverty, “ Mr Clarke added.
“A shared theme across the pathways is that gas will only be used as a transitional technology and ultimately its role will be confined to supporting the electricity network during periods of peak demand. However, the report also recognises that it may be unviable to maintain the gas network for intermittent use.
“IGEM has reservations about the feasibility of reducing gas use by three quarters between now and 2050. The UK has been developing and refining its use of gas for over 200 years and we believe it would be unwise to marginalise gas in the future energy mix.
The continued evolution of the gas industry, including its supply chain, illustrates that both the fuel and its associated infrastructure are flexible and adaptable, says IGEM. The report makes reference to a number of strategies that could be deployed in ordered to improve the efficiency of gas use, and the Institution is keen for these to be explored further using the wealth of skills, knowledge and expertise that already exists before disregarding gas.
“In summary, IGEM believes that the most pressing requirement at this stage in the UK’s journey to decarbonisation is to extend and improve our understanding of the variety of energy sources and technologies that have already been identified," said Mr Clarke. "Only by fully understanding the impact that pursuing each of the pathways will have on our carbon emissions can be we begin to make informed decisions regarding which path we choose and how much we rely on each individual fuel and or technology in the future.”