It’s very clear that to prevent climate breakdown we need to phase out all fossil fuels by 2050, at latest. Unsurprisingly the fossil fuel companies are not happy with this idea, so they’re fighting back.
On the international level at the COP28 climate negotiations in Dubai, they’re pushing countries to agree just to “phase down unabated fossil fuels”, instead of “phasing out” all fossil fuels by a tight deadline. They like the vague word “unabated” because it gives them scope to continue their business, for example by promoting scam carbon offsets, or by “Carbon Capture Use and Storage” (CCUS) Unlike simple “Carbon Capture and Storage”, CCUS involves using captured CO2 to help pump out yet more oil.
On the domestic level, they’re trying hard to position Gas as a “Transition Fuel”, pretending that it’s OK to continue using gas to heat our homes into the indefinite future.
The problem is that although in theory “Natural” Gas has around 30% lower carbon emissions than oil, a gas boiler releases around 3-5 times more carbon emissions than a heat-pump doing the same job. When, in future, more electricity comes from renewables, the heat pump will get better, while the gas boiler won’t.
In practise, Gas is often just as bad as oil. Leaks are a particular problem because Gas basically methane which is a very powerful greenhouse gas. If just 1% of Gas leaks (which it quite often does) its carbon footprint doubles
Finally, if the Gas is brought by ship as Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) at below -160C, rather than by pipeline, the process is so energy intensive that the carbon footprint increases by a factor of nearly 4. This is an increasing problem, because since the Nordstream pipelines bringing gas from Russia were blown up, LNG imports to Europe have increased dramatically. In 2022, 35% of UK gas consumption was imported LNG.
Recognising that the writing is on the wall for fossil fuels, the gas industry has been casting around for a way to continue to supply “gas” for home heating for as long as possible.
Disgracefully British Gas salesmen recently have been caught trying to mislead customers that it’s OK to install a new Worcester Bosch gas boiler, because it will be “Hydrogen ready”. This is complete rubbish and they are being investigated by The Competition and Markets Authority. What’s worse, as Hydrogen is a small molecule, if Hydrogen was used it would leak even worse than methane does, so the current Gas distribution network would need to be completely replaced. And it’s recently been realised that when Hydrogen does leak, chemical reactions in the atmosphere make the global warming impact of the Methane emissions even worse than they already were.
This is why, although Hydrogen could be useful way of providing heat in some big industrial processes, the National Infrastructure Commission and the Climate Change Committee emphasise that it would be ridiculously wasteful to use it for domestic heating.
The solution is simple. We need to shut our ears to the ‘Siren Song’ of the gas salesmen and get off gas. Now.