Monday, February 02, 2009

"Green" Gas?

Reading this report on the BBC News site, I was struck by the following paragraph:
Today's report will contribute to the growing debate about heat, which produces 47% of the UK's CO2 emissions - much more than electricity or transport. The government will soon launch a consultation on a heat strategy.
Aaaaaaaaargh!!!! Why the hell hasn't the government already started working out the most difficult part of achieving its 80% cut to emissions? For fuck's sake, guys, hurry up, we don't have long!

That goes doubly so because the problem is an exceedingly prickly one, as anyone who's read, say, George Monbiot's "Heat" should be aware. Gas is the most efficient producer of heat (as opposed to electricity), but burning it requires a separate infrastructure for its supply, and shifting to hydrogen and combined heat and power (one option) would likely* require a proper, serious commitment from the government to get around the old "no market until all the infrastructure's in place / no incentive to install the infrastructure because there's currently no market for it" problem, because the pipes required are different to the ones we currently use to supply natural gas. (* I say likely because I'm sure market fans would argue that companies should be able to see far enough into the future to see a way to make profit down the line, but I have to say, given how good the market has been at thinking long term so far, I'm skeptical.)

The other option is finding enough renewably sourced gas to replace most natural gas (unlikely, and relies on a wasteful economy just when we're trying to move away from one), moving to things like woodchip burners (not great, a lot of woodchip to be transported about), electrical heating (inefficient, but, with a lot of renewable electricity, an option), or converting all our housing stock to passive houses (also not easy).

What becomes clear is that all the options involve some serious changes and a big, proper commitment from government to a particular strategy. Electrical generation is one thing, but heating our homes and workplaces is a very knotty problem with no simple answers. Anyone looking at this in even a cursory manner could have told you this years ago. So hurry up, government!