21 January 2021

Broad coalition of stakeholders calls on the EU not to rely on direct use of hydrogen to decarbonise buildings

Addressing EU Commission Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans in an open letter, the co-signatories underline that to achieve a higher 2030 EU climate target, massive emissions reductions in the building sector will be needed (<60% compared to 2015). This requires applying the energy efficiency first principle and boost the integration of renewables, as envisaged by the Renovation Wave strategy.

While it is true that renewable hydrogen can play a role in decarbonising hard-to-abate sectors, its direct use for heating on a large scale is problematic because it comes with many uncertainties linked to the scalability, costs of its production and inefficiencies, the letter says.

To optimise the process of heat decarbonisation in the medium and long-term, the EU should favour energy efficiency options as they can immediately deliver real carbon savings, while accommodating a growing share of renewable sources.

The co-signatories call on the Commission not to overestimate the potential of “zero-emission gas”, which would be mostly imported from abroad. Doing that would constrain EU taxpayers to fund unnecessary infrastructures, such as gas pipelines (or their upgrade), diverting financial resources from immediately applicable and more sustainable heat decarbonisation solutions.

As we highlighted in a recent Coolproducts report, hydrogen produced from renewable (ideally excess renewable electricity) will be limited in amount and highly valuable: it should therefore be channelled only to those sectors that, as of yet, have no other option to be decarbonised (for example energy-intensive industries or long-haul transportation such as maritime transport and aviation). Besides the limited amounts of hydrogen available, there are also concerns about safety when burning hydrogen for heating, in particular associated to its high flammability. 

 

Notes: 

The efficiency factor between green hydrogen and competitive technologies is so large that hydrogen is not a viable option when it comes to heating in buildings. For example, it takes about five times more wind or solar electricity to heat a home with hydrogen than it takes to heat the same home with an efficient heat pump.[1],[2]

[1]Fraunhofer, Hydrogen in the energy system of the future: Focus on heat in buildings, 2020

[2] Agora, Heat decarbonisation, energy efficiency, and sector integration

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