As the debate surrounding the use of green hydrogen for heating systems heats up, the Free Democratic Party (FDP) has campaigned for its adoption in the Building Energy Act.
However, numerous scientists argue that green hydrogen will not play a significant role in the heating sector. Energy expert Dr. Jan Rosenow, a leading researcher in the decarbonization of energy systems, presents compelling arguments against the feasibility of heating with green hydrogen. This article aims to delve into the goals, technology, potential impact, and challenges associated with using green hydrogen for heating, shedding light on the current state of this contentious issue.
One of the main challenges hindering the widespread adoption of green hydrogen for heating is its limited availability. Despite the German government’s target of installing 5 gigawatts of hydrogen electrolysers by 2030, equivalent to heating less than 2 percent of the entire building stock, the overall supply remains insufficient. This scarcity of green hydrogen necessitates prioritizing its use in sectors such as steel, chemical industries, aviation, and shipping, where alternatives for achieving climate neutrality are more limited.
Green hydrogen production comes with a hefty price tag. A scientific study commissioned by the federal government estimates that by 2030, green hydrogen produced in Germany will cost approximately 25 cents per kilowatt hour. Comparatively, this cost is significantly higher than the expected operating costs of heat pumps, making hydrogen-based heating financially unviable for many households. To heat a house with hydrogen, the annual expenses could exceed €5,000, whereas heat pumps are projected to offer more cost-effective solutions.
Producing green hydrogen through electrolysis is considerably less efficient than directly using renewable electricity to power heat pumps or electric vehicles. Dr. Rosenow highlights that heating a house with green hydrogen would require roughly five times as much wind or solar power compared to using an efficient heat pump. The additional infrastructure required to generate sufficient green hydrogen poses significant challenges, even with the current efforts to import it from various countries. The inefficiency of hydrogen-based heating systems makes them less attractive in terms of energy utilization.
Adapting existing gas networks to accommodate hydrogen poses substantial difficulties. The conversion of gas networks requires meticulous planning, and households aiming to install hydrogen-ready heating systems must adhere to strict conditions and undergo rigorous checks by regulators. Moreover, hydrogen possesses different properties from natural gas, potentially leading to corrosion in older pipes and increased flammability. The replacement of existing meters and heaters, not just those at the end of their service life, incurs significant costs for gas network operators.
Dr. Rosenow calls for a more realistic approach in the heating debate, cautioning against raising false hopes. While he acknowledges potential applications for hydrogen in the heating sector, such as hybrid heat pumps and leveraging waste heat from electrolyzers in district heating networks, he emphasizes the need to prioritize realism and avoid misleading arguments that can hinder the transition to sustainable heating solutions. A balanced approach, combining various technologies, is crucial to achieving the necessary decarbonization goals.
Despite the FDP’s campaign for heating systems powered by green hydrogen, leading energy experts argue against its viability. Limited availability, high costs, inefficiency, and infrastructure challenges are key factors undermining the potential of green hydrogen in the heating sector. While hydrogen may find niche applications, a realistic approach that encompasses a mix of technologies is vital to ensure a successful transition towards sustainable heating solutions.