A total of 18 independent studies produced since 2019 – including by the IPCC, IEA and McKinsey – have ruled out the possibility of hydrogen playing an important role in heating buildings, according to a list prepared by renowned energy expert Jan Rosenow.
Several gas distributors, particularly in Europe, have lobbied hard in recent years to seek government support to eventually replace the natural gas that forms the core of their business — primarily used to heat homes and businesses — with clean hydrogen.
But study after study has shown that such a scenario would be highly unlikely due to the costs and inefficiencies involved.
For example, the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded in its recent 2,913 pages: Climate change mitigation report that nearly 0% of buildings would be heated by hydrogen by 2050.
Management consultant McKinsey came to the same conclusion in his 2022 study, The net-zero transition: what it would cost, what it could bring?while the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its Net Zero by 2050 reported last year that the cheapest route would include less than 2% hydrogen use in decarbonising buildings.
Rosenow — who is the European Program Director at the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP), an energy-focused independent multinational non-governmental organization — tells To upload: “For more than two years now, I have been collecting and analyzing all the independent studies I could find on hydrogen for heating. Virtually none of them see hydrogen heating as a good option for various reasons.
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“This also includes costs, which are higher than with other clean heating options such as heat pumps and district heating. It also includes environmental impacts because supplying one unit of heat with [green] hydrogen requires about five to six times more renewable electricity than a heat pump. That means five to six times more production capacity, more raw materials and more land.”
He rejects the idea that heat pumps — which are highly energy-efficient and can also provide air conditioning — won’t work in poorly insulated homes or in freezing conditions.
“Heat pumps are a proven technology that is widely used in cold climates and in all types of buildings. It’s a myth that heat pumps don’t work in old buildings or in cold climates,” he says.
Blue hydrogen, derived from natural gas with carbon capture and storage, has also been proposed to heat homes, but this would actually require more methane per unit of heat than simply burning the gas – hardly an ideal proposition during a global gas price crisis†
In addition to the costs and inefficiencies of using hydrogen to heat homes, there are also significant issues surrounding the practicalities of converting devices and networks to run on 100% H2.
For example, a group of 90 European gas distributors campaigning for 100% hydrogen in their networks, called Ready4H2, accidentally demonstrated the exact opposite of its name: that gas networks will not be ready for pure H2 anytime soon.
According to the group’s report, Ready4H2: Europe’s local hydrogen networkspublished last December, only 24% of members said they would be “completely ready” for 100% hydrogen by 2035, and only 67% said they would be by 2040.
In other words, a third of the most pro-hydrogen gas distributors in Europe say they won’t be quite ready for pure H2 networks in 20 years and three quarters in 15 years is not yet ready.
Rosenow defines “independent” as “not conducted by or on behalf of a specific industry (gas, oil, electricity, heat pumps, boiler manufacturers, etc.”) This excludes investigations by lobbyists such as the Hydrogen Council and Hydrogen4EU, which are dominated by fossil fuel companies.
The other independent reports in Rosenow’s list have been written by academic institutions including London’s Imperial College, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Britain’s Manchester University; research organizations such as the German Wuppertal Institute and Öko-Institut, and the British Center for Research into Energy Demand Solutions; nonprofit organizations such as the International Council on Clean Transportation and the Energy Transitions Commission; and analysts such as Element Energy, Agora Energiewende and Michael Liebreich.
For the full list of Rosenow’s studies, click here†
In addition to his work at RAP, Rosenow also serves on the executive committee of the IEA’s demand-side management program and has advised the European Commission, the European Parliament and government departments in several countries, including the US.
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