Pipe dream: alleviating energy poverty with hydrogen

(EurActiv, 20 Apr 2021) Europe must not allow the push to tackle energy poverty to be derailed by the mirage of heating homes with hydrogen. Instead, the EU should focus on energy efficiency and financial support for poor households to switch to clean energy, write Jan Rosenow and Louise Sunderland.

Jan Rosenow is European programmes director and Louise Sunderland is a researcher, advisor, and policy analyst at the Regulatory Assistance Project, an NGO focusing on policy to accelerate the transition to a clean, reliable and energy efficient future.

The debate about how to reduce emissions from home heating is hotting up, but it risks being derailed by vocal proponents for the use of hydrogen in place of fossil gas. Affordable home heating with hydrogen is, quite literally, a ‘pipe dream’ [noun: a hope or plan that is impossible to achieve]. The available evidence indicates hydrogen has no significant future in the mix of affordable home-heating choices. And it would also most certainly exacerbate energy poverty.

In its response to the European Green Deal, Eurogas makes the case for “affordable solutions that cater to all, particularly vulnerable consumers,” and identifies gas boilers as a “no-regrets approach to decarbonising heating.” In the UK, representatives of the gas boiler industry have urged the government “to back hydrogen in rush to replace gas boilers.” They have further argued that a “gas boiler ban could plunge millions into fuel poverty.” But the terrible irony is that switching from fossil gas to hydrogen for heating would in fact do just that.

Low-income households must be supported to switch away from fossil gas, but hydrogen is not the dream solution that consumers are being sold.

Hydrogen is expensive

The story we are told is that the cost and upheaval of switching from fossil gas to hydrogen would be minimal – we wouldn’t need to insulate our homes, swap out our radiators or change our behaviours. All homes would need is a new hydrogen boiler. This argument overlooks the significant upgrades to the gas network required to make hydrogen viable, with households footing the bill. It also remains to be seen how much of the pipework inside homes would need to be upgraded. But, most worrying, this narrative conveniently ignores that households using hydrogen would incur much higher running costs.

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EurActiv, 20 Apr 2021: Pipe dream: alleviating energy poverty with hydrogen