Business & NGOs say hydrogen is not the way to decarbonise buildings

Posted on January, 21 2021

Over 30 businesses, industry associations, NGOs, and think tanks are urging the European Commission to prioritise better insulation and renewable heating to decarbonise Europe’s buildings.
They warn that using hydrogen to heat buildings - as advocated by the gas industry, for example - should be avoided for both climate and economic reasons. 

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 the EU’s ‘energy efficiency first’ principle to be applied and higher take-up of renewables , as envisaged in the Commission’s recently published ‘Renovation Wave’ strategy. 

While it is true that hydrogen made from renewable energy can play a role in decarbonising sectors where emissions are hard to bring down, like shipping, steel or chemicals, 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.

Hydrogen is not a magic wand for instant decarbonisation. Producing hydrogen entails significant energy losses, and has a major impact on water resources and  land use", said Camille Maury, Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office.

"What’s more, renewable hydrogen will be a limited resource until at least 2030. Thus, hydrogen must be seen as a solution for sectors that have no other alternatives to  fully decarbonise - such as some energy intensive industries like steel, basic chemicals. Electrification and energy efficiency can help decarbonise heating systems today. The EU’s priority should be  moving domestic and commercial heating away from gas, towards renewable energy and heat pumps,” stated Maury.

In the coming months, the Clean Hydrogen Alliance - the group set up by the Commission to bring industry and other actors to promote clean hydrogen - will hold a seris of round-table events, including on the use of hydrogen in the residential sector. 

Notes to the editors:
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

Sarah Azau
Media and communications manager
Tel: +32 473 573 137
Logos of signatories of the business and NGO letter to Commission Vice President Timmermans warning against hydrogen in buildings - January 2021