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What are the barriers preventing hydrogen heating our homes?

Written by Hanna Williams, Senior Research Manager, Insights

Madano’s research suggests three key areas of focus to making hydrogen in the home a reality

This year we’ve seen media, policy and the public come together to take steps to reduce the amount of plastic we produce and consume. However, messages about environmental issues have not always inspired change. We typically prioritise instant gratification unless a change of behaviour is nudged or forced upon us, like the 5p plastic bag charge.

Research conducted by Madano and published Thursday 22nd November by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) provides further evidence that it is not always straightforward to translate intent into action.

Madano worked with specialist low-carbon energy consultants, Element Energy, on a project commissioned by the CCC, to understand public acceptability of two alternative low-carbon heating technologies for heating homes in the UK – hydrogen for heating and heat pumps.

These technologies have the potential to replace natural gas in many households as part of the government’s effort to decrease carbon emissions. Our research, consisting of a number of focus groups and a nationally representative survey, aimed to understand likely public acceptability of these technologies.

Three key findings are relevant here:

  • A large majority of the public feel it is important that we switch to more environmentally friendly alternatives to heat homes in the UK
  • However, the need to switchover and the implications of it are not well understood
  • Practical implications of a switchover to new ways to heat our homes are a significant barrier to public acceptability for both heating technologies

Over three quarters (76%) of respondents stated that they are concerned about climate change, with the same number (76%) believing it is important for UK homes to switch to alternative low-carbon energy sources for heating their homes. This was felt strongly as a progressive step, perhaps even something that should already have happened.

There is limited awareness about the need to switch over from natural gas, as over half of those surveyed (57%) have never heard of the need to, or know very little about it. Other factors, such as pollution from cars, are more associated with contributing to carbon emissions than heating our homes and therefore feel like more significant challenges to be dealt with. Understanding of switching away from natural gas is further complicated by a lack of knowledge of the alternatives: over half (51%) have never heard of hydrogen fuel boilers – one of the main potential alternatives.

When educating the public on the heating technologies as part of the research, the issue of the level of effort required to switch to new heating technologies became clear. Throughout the research, the number of those who did not view either technology as a suitable alternative generally increased throughout.

Lack of consumer benefit a concern for hydrogen

Ultimately, a lack of obvious consumer benefit from either hydrogen heating or heat pumps was perceived as a concern. Three overarching factors were identified as influencing negative views on the heating technologies:

  • Negative perceptions of installation burden
  • The lack of familiarity with a new technology and how it works with current habits and perceptions
  • How well the technologies would meet modern heating needs (quieter, faster, more concealed technologies).

Therefore, while the public understands the ultimate need to switchover from natural gas, there remain challenges to get them to accept the alternative low-carbon heating technologies. The value-action gap is clearly present here, as we do not always behave in accordance with our beliefs.

Greater emphasis on education about the heating technologies and how the household will benefit from switching heating technology, will be required to secure public acceptability. Only then will intent have a chance of translating into action.

Indeed, as Madano concluded in a recent blog, the future success of the UK’s hydrogen economy depends on communicating beyond industry to those who stand to benefit most from its development – the British public.

In short, the hydrogen story needs to be told in new and interesting ways to gain the public’s acceptability.

We would very much enjoy hearing your views about the report’s findings.

If you would be interested in hearing more about this research, please contact Hanna Williams at [email protected] or write to us via LinkedIn or Twitter.