A coalition of 33 business and civil society groups have urged the European Commission to prioritise renewables and energy efficiency over hydrogen as part of Europe’s efforts to decarbonise buildings.
Europe’s upcoming gas market reform, expected to be tabled in June, “should be aimed at designing an energy system that goes beyond fossil gas” in order to reach climate neutrality by 2050, the coalition says in an open letter on Thursday (21 January).
The buildings sector needs to cut emissions by 60% over the next 10 years in order to reach the bloc’s 2030 climate goals, the signatories underline. And to achieve this, renewables and energy efficiency should be prioritised – not hydrogen, they argue.
“While some believe that challenging renovation of buildings and the retrofitting of renewable heating systems could be avoided by introducing hydrogen for heating our buildings, the reality is different,” the signatories write.
“It is true that renewable hydrogen can play a role in decarbonising hard-to-abate sectors” like steel and chemicals, they write. “But 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,” they add.
Instead, energy efficiency options “must be favoured” to decarbonise buildings “because they can immediately deliver real carbon savings while accommodating a growing share of renewable sources,” they argue.
The letter was signed by a wide range of business groups including Danfoss, Knauf Insulation, Saint-Gobain, Schneider Electric, Signify and Veolia. Trade associations in the solar industry, geothermal and district heating sectors were also among the signatories, alongside civil society groups like the WWF, the European Climate Foundation, and Climate Action Network Europe.
The gas industry is currently running tests across Europe to partly convert gas-based heating systems to hydrogen.
In Northern England, more than 650 households and commercial properties will trial the use of blended green hydrogen in heating, starting in early 2021. Hydrogen will account for up to 20% of the gas mix in the network, according to EURACTIV’s media partner, edie.net.
The main advantage of blending small amounts of hydrogen with gas is that it doesn’t require changing existing gas distribution networks or household heating systems, which makes decarbonisation cheaper.
But the signatories of the letter say this is a distraction from longer-term solutions like renewables and energy efficiency, which are available now.
“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,” they write.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]