Residents and landlords in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg are to be told that hydrogen is “too scarce, too expensive and too inefficient” to heat buildings, as part of a new public information campaign launched by the state’s government-backed home energy advisors.
The campaign appears to be a reaction to the federal German government’s plans to ban gas boilers but allow the installation of so-called “hydrogen-ready” gas installations which can be converted to 100% later on — a marketing ruse on the part of boiler manufacturers which has already fallen foul of regulators in the UK.
Zukunft Altbau (translated as Future of Old Buildings), which is funded by the government of Baden-Württemberg to advise owners of existing buildings on energy-related renovation, will use the campaign to warn the public and its customers against using H2 as a heating fuel, primarily due to its inefficiency compared to a heat pump.
Conversion losses mean that a hydrogen boiler produces just 1kWh of heat for each 2kWh of electricity used to make the hydrogen in the first place, Zukunft Altbau said. A heat pump produces an average of 3kW of heat for every 1kWh of electricity used — six times more efficient than a green H2-powered gas boiler.
“Anyone who owns a house should therefore normally choose an alternative,” Stuttgart-based Zukunft Altbau said.
Around 43 independent studies have now found that hydrogen is unlikely to play a role in heating due to its inefficiency and expense.
The government-backed advisory service also stressed that all available green hydrogen production will be needed for hard-to-decarbonise sectors in industry which are unable to electrify.
"There will probably not be any relevant quantities available for the building sector," said Martin Pehnt, scientific director of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IFEU), which has been involved in drafting buildings legislation in Germany.
“And these will be relatively expensive.”
This expense will be compounded by the need to convert a hydrogen-ready boiler to run on 100% hydrogen — as well as the wider costs of developing new or converted infrastructure to deliver H2 to buildings.
While Zukunft Altbau admits that this feat is technically possible, it warns that the logistical and commercial challenges will be enormous.
“If on a given day there is a switch from natural gas to hydrogen or to a mixture first, all pipelines and all connected households with their devices must be ready to transport and use hydrogen,” it said. “Many experts therefore assume that the conversion of the distribution networks relevant to households will hardly be feasible and that only a few heating systems located at nodes in the future hydrogen network could be supplied with it.”
Moreover, as the costs of gas increase and as customers fall off the network to electrify their buildings, the customers that remain will have to shoulder an ever-increasing cost burden to keep the network on line.
"The hydrogen option in the boiler room is a thing of the future and will in all likelihood remain so," added Frank Hettler, Zukunft Altbau’s manager. “Some experts also speak of a fairy tale — which is likely to be expensive for homeowners who trust in it.”