Don't rely on direct hydrogen use to decarbonise buildings, broad coalition of stakeholders tells the EU

(eceee Press Release, 21 Jan 2021) eceee joins a broad coalition of 33 businesses, industry associations, NGOs, and think tanks to urge the European Commission to prioritise available efficient and sustainable solutions to decarbonise Europe’s building stock and avoiding the direct use of hydrogen for this purpose.

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.

Nils Borg, eceee’s Executive Director commented that “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". 

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.

Note on the conversion efficiency

The figures on conversion efficiency is based on two studies: Hydrogen in the energy system of the future: Focus on heat in buildings (Fraunhofer IEE, 2020) and Heat decarbonisation, energy efficiency, and sector integration, by Agora Energiewende and partners.