Heating expert Ian Henderson says the industry is 100,000 engineers short of being able to replace 22 million gas boilers with a carbon-free hydrogen alternative.
The founder and managing director of Northumberland-based Boiler Plan UK says the green technology is the only viable alternative to decarbonising domestic heating – with trials underway to ensure the existing gas network can carry hydrogen and manufacturers producing prototype boilers.
However, the process will require a huge investment if the government is to achieve its 2050 net zero target.
He said: “We need to recruit and train a further 100,000 engineers if this country is to succeed in making the mass switch from gas to hydrogen boilers over a ten-year period. Existing heating engineers will also require an updating of their skills and expertise – which means that a huge investment is needed in apprenticeships and training.”
Boris Johnson has announced a new target to cut the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68 percent by the end of this decade. The existing target was 57 percent, significantly higher than that of the EU, which is 40 percent.
Last month the prime minister published a ten-point plan which included a ban on fitting gas boilers to new-build homes by 2023 and the phasing out of gas boilers from all existing homes from 2035.
Government sources admit that gas boilers remain the big issue in achieving any further cuts in emissions.
Mr Henderson, who is himself a qualified heating engineer who has lobbied the government on the need to decarbonise homes, added: “A complete switch from gas to hydrogen has the support of the industry which is currently working very hard to make it a reality.
“It is one of the greenest fuels available and the key benefit is that it can be integrated into the existing gas network to cause a minimum of disruption.”
Electric heat pumps have also been mentioned as another low carbon heating system, but he believes this would be more appropriate to the six million homes not currently on the gas grid.
He added: “Electric heat pumps are highly efficient when compared with gas, but the systems are much more expensive, and homes need to be well insulated.
Boiler Plan UK, which is headquartered in Cramlington, is already diversifying from its core market of selling, installing and maintaining gas boilers, having recently created an eco-department – using its expertise to carry out assessments and install energy saving improvements as part of the government’s £2bn Green Homes Grants scheme.