Help fuel a green revolution

This article is part of a special report on Climate solutions , which examines efforts around the world to make a difference. Bibba Th...


This article is part of a special report on Climate solutions, which examines efforts around the world to make a difference.


Bibba Thompson and the 75 elderly people who live around her in a local government housing community in the north of England do not look like revolutionaries.

But they happily participate in a home energy trial which is touted by organizers as part of a new “green industrial revolution” which they hope will put their small community on the forefront of global energy changes. for the second time in three centuries.

Since August, Ms Thompson, 58, and her neighbors in the hilltop village of Winlaton, outside Newcastle, have run their gas radiators and stoves on a mixture containing up to 20% hydrogen. The reason? Reduce greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, emitted by their devices.

As the host of the UN climate talks in Glasgow, the UK government has pledged to meet one of the world’s most ambitious emissions reduction targets, pledging to cut greenhouse gases. greenhouse by 78% by 2035. Home heating is one area where it must match its promises to action.

Trials in Australia and elsewhere have experimented with lower levels of hydrogen in the fuel mixture, and the Netherlands allow mixtures of up to 12%, but gas network operators running the 670 household Winlaton trial say it’s the first time a mixture of 20 percent hydrogen was put into an existing gas network with normal gas appliances.

The companies say this is an important step towards reducing Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions, and they hope it will encourage the use of 100% hydrogen in the long term. home heaters which the government says account for about 14% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

As the government focuses on supporting the use of hydrogen for industrial customers rather than for home heating, gas companies desperately want their huge pipeline networks to retain a central role in heating the country, and part of their strategy is to convince the public that switching to hydrogen would be clean, easy, cheap and safe.

“At first, a few people were skeptical of ‘Will my boiler explode?’ but everything went well and they’re pretty happy with it now, ”said Ms Thompson, who lives on site and manages the 55-unit complex for people over 65. “The older ones think cleaning the environment is great for their grandchildren, and that really strikes a chord here because of our history,” she said. “We may be just a small village, but we have a big coal heritage. “

Winlaton did indeed play a big role in the days when the first fossil fuels were released on a large scale.

A few hundred yards from Ms Thompson’s housing project, just behind the library on Church Street, is a 330-year-old smithy, the last vestige of an operation that made Winlaton a pivotal site of the Industrial Revolution.

The forge was part of a company founded in 1691 by Ambrose crowley which became the largest steelworks in Europe, with hundreds of workers making nails and chains for the Royal Navy and other iron products, including slave handcuffs for the British colonies. This was years before the invention of the steam engine and other machines that are generally considered to mark the beginning of the industrial revolution.

Val Scully, administrator of the local heritage center, said Mr Crowley’s key contribution was to initiate mass production techniques and the creation of an industrial working class, who worked side by side on weekly wages . It was this system that allowed the inventions of the following decades to flourish and unleash the genius of coal power, a genius that much of the world is now desperately trying to put back into its bottle.

Tim Harwood, head of hydrogen projects at Northern Gas Networks, a pipeline operator, said the north-east of England has a chance to be the home of “the next industrial revolution, a green revolution”.

The region is already a major hotbed of offshore wind power, and the government views the industrial clusters around Newcastle and Hull as centers of what it hopes will be a conversion to clean hydrogen.

The lower calorific value of hydrogen means that deploying a 20 percent blend to all natural gas customers would reduce their heating emissions by 7 percent, thus reducing by about 1 percent of total emissions in Grande -Brittany. The big gain would come with a switch to pure hydrogen, which could reduce the country’s emissions by more than a tenth. But it would also require the installation of millions of new devices – a huge challenge.

Mr Harwood said the mixture is “just a stepping stone and a way to boost the switch to hydrogen.”

Many analysts and some government ministers doubt the country will be able to produce enough hydrogen in the foreseeable future to deploy it beyond heavy industries.

The challenges include reducing production costs quickly enough to reduce the subsidies needed to make hydrogen competitive, and switching as quickly as possible from “blue hydrogen”, which is made from methane and requires capture and capture. underground storage of its own carbon. emissions, to cleaner “green hydrogen”, which needs more electricity to produce but has no carbon emissions.

Gas operators are trying to speed things up and are keen not to be left behind by the government’s push to install the potentially cleaner electric heat pumps that are already popular in mainland Europe.

“If you think of the 23 million customers in the UK who have a gas supply, we hope to reach up to 16 million customers with hydrogen,” said Mr Harwood.

“You couldn’t fit a heat pump in most Winlaton homes,” he said, “because the housing stock is old, leaky and cold, and the heat pumps don’t produce enough heat without special insulation. “

Current programs to modernize the gas network by replacing metal pipes with hydrogen-ready plastic should be completed by the time enough hydrogen is produced to consider switching from heating to pure hydrogen, Mr. Harwood, and the gas companies want the government as soon as possible that all new gas boilers must be able to be converted to hydrogen.

The government has already announced plans for a ‘hydrogen village’ trial in which around 2,000 properties will run on pure hydrogen from 2025, followed by a ‘hydrogen town’ of up to 15,000. properties by 2030, but Mr Harwood said gas operators would prefer to see that timeline accelerated.

Dave Tully, a 63-year-old former military policeman who lives in a two-bedroom townhouse in Winlaton, said he received leaflets about the 10-month trial and a free safety inspection of his devices, but that ‘he still felt he was taking part.

“I think it was going to continue no matter what the audience thought, but in the end it’s probably fair enough,” he said. “Turns out that hasn’t changed the way our stove or heater works at all and I guess we need to do something about climate change, so that sort of thing is probably needed.”

The hydrogen campaign in Winlaton included invitations to two exhibit houses, where residents can see that 100% hydrogen stoves and heaters are the same size as existing gas appliances. The only notable difference is that the flame of the burners is orange rather than blue and has a larger “sunflower” shape to distribute heat more widely, as hydrogen is lighter and its heat tends to rise faster.

Mr Harwood said he hoped to see these new flames heating up cups of British tea within a decade.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Help fuel a green revolution
Help fuel a green revolution
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