Across the construction industry, significant efforts are being made to ensure the UK is able to reach its ambitious target of becoming Net Zero by 2050.
The gas industry has a huge role to play in these efforts and a move away from natural gas supplies has become a primary focus in ensuring a more sustainable future.
A transition away from existing natural gas infrastructures and technologies has understandably led many to question how this will affect demand for existing gas engineers. However, with large-scale changes still likely decades away, and existing skills extremely valuable — albeit with some upskilling required in the long-term future — gas engineers remain in an incredibly strong position.
What are the alternatives to natural gas?
In the long term, hydrogen is the most realistic replacement for natural gas, however, there are a number of other alternatives currently being used.
Heat pumps have become more frequently used as an alternative to gas boilers. These are powered by electricity, and work by either collecting heat from the air outside, or from the ground.
Solar panels have also become more commonplace, absorbing the sun’s energy to heat the home and potentially providing up to 70% of a home’s hot water for free.
When will natural gas be phased out entirely?
Below, we’ve highlighted the key dates for natural gas to be phased out and eventually switched to 100% hydrogen.
- 2025: Gas boilers no longer included in new-build properties
- 2025-2030: 20% hydrogen blend introduced into the gas grid
- 2030-2035: Gas grid switches to a 100% hydrogen gas supply
- 2035: Gas-fired boilers removed from the market in favour of hydrogen boilers and heat pumps
Will existing gas skills and qualifications still be relevant?
85% of UK homes still rely on gas for heating, and there are 22 million existing boilers that will need servicing and repairs the same way they have done for decades.
Once the move away from natural gas supplies is eventually made, those with an understanding of how these traditional appliances work will be vital in ensuring a smooth transition.
“The fundamental core skills are the same and are transferrable between natural gas and hydrogen.”Ian, Gas Centre Manager at Able Skills
The fundamental skills of a gas engineer are transferable between natural gas and hydrogen. We’ve already seen successful trials of hydrogen gas being introduced into existing public networks, and most modern boilers are already built to a ‘hydrogen ready’ standard, meaning the day-to-day responsibilities of gas engineers won’t actually change that drastically, and existing skills will still be in huge demand.
Will gas engineers need to upskill?
Some level of upskilling will be inevitable as regulations are updated to ensure a safe transition away from natural gas. Initially, what’s likely to happen is that EU skills will introduce an add-on module to the existing ACS. This could take the form of a 1-2 day uplift skills course that adds to existing gas qualifications.
Given that gas engineers must renew their qualifications every five years at an approved ACS training centre anyway, and with the new skills easy to integrate with existing ones, this shouldn’t be seen as a major hurdle.
Energy & Utility Skills have teamed up with IGEM to develop a new set of standards for gas engineers, along with new training frameworks for domestic, commercial and industrial hydrogen gas installation, ensuring a busy, promising future for the profession.
As part of this process, IGEM will also assess ongoing hydrogen research to update the IGEM/H/1 Hydrogen Reference Standard and create two brand new standards that cover both domestic and non-domestic scenarios. Following this, Energy & Utility Skills will finalise the new training framework by September 2023.
Could gas be facing a skills shortage?
What we’re likely to see, because of the ageing workforce currently in the gas industry, is that there could be a skills shortage at a time when gas engineers are in demand.
Naturally, older engineers who have been in the industry a long time may drop out, reluctant to complete the additional training needed to upskill to work with hydrogen. This could leave a skills shortage which may provide new opportunities for anyone considering training now.
Want to find out how you can take your first steps towards a career in gas?
Find out more about our gas courses here, visit us at the training centre for a chat, or call us on 01322 280 202.