Economic and financial market outlook

Some fascinating insights from Marc Hendriks kicked off acumen7’s June meeting. Marc shared a macroeconomic outlook of the financial markets, and the causes of UK and global inflation. Marc also spoke about why he decided to launch a start-up 18 months ago, GreenGrowth Investments and highlighted the challenges so far. Marc is the Co-Founder and CIO of GreenGrowth, which offers a pioneering investment app enabling retail investors to invest sustainably based on their lifestyle. GreenGrowth aims to make sustainability the new normal for investing, and allows everyday retail investors to participate by investing into these solutions, letting them have a positive impact and healthy financial returns.

For more information on GreenGrowth Investments, visit: Ethical Investment – GreenGrowth

 

Preservation of embodied carbon in the built environment

Some fascinating insights from acumen7 Member and MD of C-Probe Systems Graeme Jones, including the fact that 70% of infrastructure damage is due to corrosion, with the tragedies of the condo collapse in Florida and the bridge in Genoa two stark examples of why the issue can’t be ignored. C-Probe has the technology to automate, streamline and improve the way we buy and warrant, build and manage buildings and infrastructure on a low carbon, sustainable basis. It’s time to think differently in terms of decarbonisation for whole life by repurposing industrial wastes, securing embodied carbon and ensuring sustainability with futureproofing.

For more information on C-Probe Systems, visit: https://www.c-probe.co.uk/

Confronting the barriers to MMC

Polypipe’s Divisional MD Vince Fenson spoke about confronting the barriers to the adoption of MMC (Modern Methods of Construction). A discussion followed on the reasons for the slow adoption of MMC, with the carbon neutral agenda being posed as a way of moving in the right direction in future. MMC eradicates the many ‘snags’ common in traditional builds and, as well as improving energy performance, also means less waste and pollution in the construction process. Polypipe’s businesses focus on developing and delivering engineered water and climate management solutions for the built environment.

For more information on Polypipe, visit: Polypipe | Piping, Underfloor Heating & Energy-Efficient Ventilation

Climate Risk Reporting: What Directors should know, right now

The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TFCD), chaired by Michael Bloomberg, has been quietly working away on recommendations for corporate reporting of climate change risk. Companies will almost immediately need to take action. As the Wall Street Journal reports: “Working out who might be hit next is challenging for investors. The potential impact and costs of climate change are complex to estimate, particularly given the long time horizon and range of pathways the world might take as it tries to decarbonize. By forcing companies to work through different scenarios publicly, the TCFD reporting should bring some much-needed clarity to risks outside of obvious problem sectors like oil and gas. It should also shed light on climate leaders and laggards within sectors.”

Please see the link to an Insight from acumen7 member Peter Dixon, looking at what Directors should know, right now:

201120 Peter Dixon Insight – Climate Risk Reporting – What Directors Should Know Right Now

 

Net Zero carbon homes: Is hydrogen the solution?

Moving over to a hydrogen economy is a major strategic decision that needs to be made soon

In its Future Homes Standard proposals, which are set to take effect from 2025, the government favours a combination of high energy efficiency standards combined with the use of heat pumps for heating new homes. But heat pumps are expensive to install and work best in well insulated homes, so might a shift to hydrogen work best for existing homes to meet the 2050 net zero carbon target as this would allow the continued use of gas boilers?

For this to happen the government needs to make a major strategic decision whether to back a hydrogen economy. This is because the gas grid must be either shut down or turned over fully to hydrogen.

If the network is switched off, then the government will need to press ahead with the proposed ban on gas boilers and insist on the use of air and ground source heat pumps, or direct electrical heating, along with rigorous installation standards. If the network is converted to hydrogen, then new builds could be equipped with whichever heating source is most economic at that point in time.

It may well be economic for large scale housing developments to be equipped with district heating systems, but again, the energy source is dependent upon whether hydrogen is available or not, and thus subject to the same uncertainty as for individual houses. But the decision is perhaps more urgent since the investment is for over a longer period than for say, a heat pump or boiler.

The big issue is existing homes, where some are connected to the gas grid, and some are not. If there is a hydrogen grid, then hydrogen boilers can be used, and in an interim period, boilers would need to be convertible from natural gas to hydrogen. Alternatively, depending upon the relative prices of hydrogen and mains electricity, then it would be viable for many homes to be equipped with air source or ground source heat pumps. Interim solutions include ‘hybrid heat pump / gas’ systems, where gas or hydrogen can be used to ‘top up’ the heat extracted from the heat pump so it is hot enough for radiators. Heat pump systems are increasingly prevalent today, although a major retraining programme for installers and maintainers will be required, as even many highly proficient technicians are unfamiliar with the different technology.

Homes that aren’t connected to the gas grid and are unsuitable for heat pump technology would need to be equipped with direct electric and/or biomass heating.

If the government decides to back hydrogen where we would get it from? Steam methane reforming of natural gas is the dominant commercial technology, and currently produces hydrogen on a large scale but by its nature is not low carbon. It is essential that carbon capture and storage is combined with the process.

Electrolytic hydrogen production, also known as electrolysis, splits water into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity in an electrolysis cell. Electrolysis produces pure hydrogen which is ideal for low temperature fuel cells, for example in electric vehicles. Commercial electrolysers are on the market and have been in use for many years. Electrolysis is calculated to be more costly than methane reforming; however, it is clear to see that both methods may imply cost penalties over direct use of electricity.

Although hydrogen production facilities already exist at scale significant investment would be needed to produce the vast quantities of hydrogen needed to replace natural gas.

The lead times look very long on this decision as all new heating systems, whether fully electric or hydrogen based would need to be fully operational 10-15 years ahead of 2050. A hydrogen grid would also fulfil many other energy needs including transport which means the decision needs to be made even earlier. The Committee on Climate Change says that work needs to start on building a hydrogen grid by 2030.

Given the time scales within which actions must be taken, the government must soon make the major strategic decision as to whether to back a hydrogen economy or abandon the network altogether. It is thus in the interests of the housing industry to lobby hard now for a rapid and transparent consultation and decision process, since, as always, uncertainty is the enemy of good decisions, and the driver of increased costs.

Peter Dixon is a member of acumen7, and director of Kepler Energy and Barn Energy

This article was first published by Housing Today on 28 August 2020: https://www.housingtoday.co.uk/comment/net-zero-carbon-homes-is-hydrogen-the-solution/5107605.article

Photo: Worcester Bosch’s hydrogen-fired boiler

A credible alternative to Europe’s energy needs

acumen7 were treated to an enlightening presentation by Serge Colle on the benefits of Thorium Molten Salt Reactors (MSRs) – a clean, safe energy alternative. Thorium is a readily available metal that is put aside when mining other metals. A small ball of Thorium that would fit in your hand can supply all of the energy you need for your whole life if it is put into a Thorium reactor. Another positive is that MSRs use plutonium waste from the nuclear industry, leaving smaller amounts each time, which is an environmentally friendly and safe way of recycling nuclear waste.

You can find out more about Thorium at: www.thorium.today.