The upper house of the German parliament, the Bundesrat, plans to amend the controversial zero-carbon heating law put forward last month by the federal government, to remove the possibility of using hydrogen to heat the country’s buildings.
The proposed bill — itself an amendment to the existing Building Energy Act — plans to ban the installation of new fossil-fuel-only heating systems from next year, with an allowance for gas boilers if they are “hydrogen-ready” — providing that local gas distributors guarantee to put in place the required H2 infrastructure by the start of 2035.
The inclusion of hydrogen-ready boilers was a compromise position insisted upon by the junior partners in the government coalition, the economically liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP).
But even gas distributors — which are keen to switch to hydrogen in the future — have said the plan is unworkable, as they cannot guarantee a switch to 100% H2 within 11 years.
At least 37 independent studies have concluded that using hydrogen for heating will not happen at scale due to the high prices involved, and the vast volumes of clean H2 that would be required.
The use of green hydrogen in boilers would require five to six times more renewable energy than heat pumps, while blue H2 derived from natural gas (with carbon capture and storage) would require two to three times as much natural gas as standard boilers due to the lower energy density by volume of hydrogen.
Five committees of the Bundesrat — which consists of representatives of Germany’s 16 states — have met to discuss the bill ahead of a vote on 12 May, and declared that inclusion of the hydrogen clause “does not make sense” and would set the “wrong incentives” for consumers.
According to an agreed Bundesrat statement, the hydrogen-ready boiler option “will be tempting for many consumers as the initial investment costs are lower [than alternatives such as electric heat pumps]”.
“However, the likely very high costs of future hydrogen operation are not sufficiently taken into account, which means that the additional financial burden will be postponed to the future.
“The use of hydrogen does not make sense against the background of energy efficiency and socially acceptable heat prices in the building heating sector.”
The bill — which polls show is unpopular with the German people due to higher upfront prices for those needing to replace their heating systems — will also need approval from the lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, where members are directly elected by voters.
Despite signing off on the bill in cabinet last month, the FDP stated that at the time that it wanted to see the legislation amended in parliament to allow greater flexibility for hydrogen usage.