EU warned not to over-rely on hydrogen to decarbonise buildings

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A coalition of 33 European businesses, industry associations, NGOs and think tanks has sent a letter warning the European Commission not to over-rely on direct hydrogen, at the expense of available energy efficiency solutions, to decarbonise buildings.

The consortium, which comprises Veolia, Schneider Electric, WWF and the European Economy for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ECEEE), says over-reliance on hydrogen alone to decarbonise buildings will result in the bloc failing to meet its 2030 climate targets.

To be able to meet 2030 climate targets a massive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in buildings will be needed (60% by 2030 compared to 2015 levels) and this will not be achieved by relying on hydrogen alone.

For the target to be met, the bloc needs to apply the energy efficiency first principle and boost the integration of renewables, as envisaged by the Renovation Wave strategy.

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Although 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, argues the consortium.

Europe currently does not have the capacity to meet its own demand of ‘zero-emission gas’ and as such importing the energy source will constrain EU taxpayers, as there will be large amounts of funding for unnecessary infrastructures such as gas pipelines (or their upgrade).

Funding the infrastructure will divert financial resources from immediately applicable and more sustainable heat decarbonisation solutions, according to the letter.

However, recent studies and pilot programmes by utilities have indicated that existing gas infrastructure can be leveraged to transport green hydrogen.

German multinational energy company E.ON concluded a study in January, in which the firm found that using existing gas networks to transport green gas such as hydrogen in the future is the most cost-effective and socially balanced solution for the energy transition in the heating sector.

Nils Borg, ECEEE’s executive director, said: “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.”

The letter was addressed to Frans Timmermans, the first executive vice-president of the European Commission.