The small Dutch “city” of Stad aan ’t Haringvliet has voted to switch its heating systems from natural gas to green hydrogen made mainly from local excess wind and solar power, it was announced on Friday evening.
The proposal — initiated by a group of residents — would only move forward if more than 70% of all “residents, entrepreneurs and board members of civil society organisations with a natural gas connection” in the village voted “yes” — and in the end, 77.6% did.
Only 6.4% of the 1,480 eligible voters were against the plan, with 15.2% not voting at all.
It is the first time that any local population has chosen to switch its heating systems from fossil gas to green hydrogen. Similar plans in the UK have met fierce resistance from residents due to concerns about safety and higher heating bills, not to mention the way they had initially been forced to participate in the project.
“This is a very important moment in the energy transition,” said local council member Jaap Willem Eijkenduijn. “The positive outcome ensures that the city’s residents are a great example for the rest of the Netherlands and Europe.”
A final conversion plan is due to be drawn up in the winter of 2024, with existing natural gas connections converted to H2 in the summer of 2025, although the project website does state that this might not happen until 2030.
“Stad aan 't Haringvliet will be the first village in the Netherlands to be heated with green hydrogen — unique in the Netherlands and even in Europe,” says the project website.
“The lessons and experiences gained here are important. As a result, other villages or districts may be able to switch to green hydrogen and become natural gas-free in the future.”
Voting in Stad aan ’t Haringvliet — literally “City on the Herring Flow”, the latter being the name for the North Sea inlet on which the town sits — began on 3 June and finished on Friday. It was supported by the local municipality of Goeree-Overflakkee, local gas/electricity distributor Stedin, and a €5.6m ($6m) subsidy from the Dutch government.
While using green hydrogen for heating has been widely slammed for requiring five to six times more renewable energy than heat pumps, it is claimed that the island of Goeree-Overflakkee has so much excess wind and solar power that existing arrays will be able to provide most of the required electricity to run the H2-producing electrolyser.
“We use green hydrogen. This is possible because we produce more green energy than we use,” says the project website. “We do not need to build additional wind or solar farms. We convert the energy we do not use into green hydrogen.
“We use the existing gas pipeline network for transport to your home.”
It adds: “If there is a shortage of local green electricity to make hydrogen, the green electricity will have to come from somewhere else. To ensure that this electricity is also green, we only buy electricity with the 'green' certificate. This way we know for sure that there is always enough green electricity to make hydrogen.”
Like other hydrogen heating trials elsewhere, a new H2 boiler, pipework adjustments and a new meter will be installed free of charge. But unlike other hydrogen heating trials, gas cookers and fireplaces will be replaced with electric alternatives through “customised subsidies”, rather with H2-burning equipment.
This avoids the problem of the high levels of harmful NOx gases emitted from naked hydrogen flames (due to a reaction with nitrogen in the air) — which contributed to a public outcry at a planned village heating trial in Whitby, northwest England — but these molecules can be converted into safer gases inside boilers using similar technology to catalytic converters in cars.
Subsidies are also available for those that would prefer to switch to a different natural-gas free solution such as a heat pump, but it is not clear if this funding would be sufficient to cover all the relevant costs.
Residents will also receive hydrogen-detecting equipment that will test the pipeline for leakage every 24 hours, and an odorant will be added to the H2, so “if hydrogen does leak, you will smell it”.
“Anyone in Stad aan 't Haringvliet who opts for hydrogen will not pay more than a comparable natural gas price of €0.90 per m3 including taxes and VAT for 15 years,” the project website explains.
“If the natural gas price falls below € 0.90 per m3 including taxes and VAT, a lower price for hydrogen will be charged during the period when that price is lower.
“Because more m3 of hydrogen is needed for the same heat, you pay a maximum of € 0.326 per m3 for hydrogen.”
However, no such promises are being made for those who opt for a heat pump.
In terms of safety in the home, the increased risk of explosion compared to natural gas is not mentioned, nor is there is any mention of the need to install excess flow valves or additional vents, which has been recommended in the UK.
Instead the project organisers refer to the leakage tests, the added odorant, the fact that homes would only have one source of ignition (ie, the boiler, rather than cookers or fireplaces), and that there is no risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, as there is from natural gas in the home.
“When using hydrogen, we make the system so safe that leaks are prevented,” says the website of the project, which is officially known as “Stad Aardgasvrij” — or “City Natural gas free”.
Stella Braber, resident and one of the initiators of Stad Aardgasvrij: “I am very happy with this positive result. This means that there is a lot of support from our fellow villagers for the plan for a natural gas-free City aan 't Haringvliet in the near future. All residents, entrepreneurs and administrators in Stad aan 't Haringvliet: thank you very much for your involvement!"