Donald Trump has never tried to use evidence to win an argument. If anything, he does the opposite, he lies and exaggerates, he demonises opponents using insulting rhetoric — he tries to make his supporters believe that anyone with an opposing viewpoint is illegitimate, that they are so nefarious that good people should ignore every word they say.

Hydrogen: hype, hope and the hard truths around its role in the energy transition
Will hydrogen be the skeleton key to unlock a carbon-neutral world? Subscribe to the weekly Hydrogen Insight newsletter and get the evidence-based market insight you need for this rapidly evolving global market

One of the UK’s most prominent hydrogen-for-heating proponents has begun to take the same approach.

In a blog published last week, Mike Foster, the chief executive of the trade body Energy & Utilities Alliance (EUA) — whose members are reliant on natural gas for their business — raged against anyone that would dare criticise the potential use of clean hydrogen to heat homes.

He described them as “all-electric fundamentalists” and “pint-sized pundits”, and cast doubts on the independence of the many analysts and academics that do not believe H2 will play a significant role in space and water heating.

Talking about the launch of the ‘Hello Hydrogen’ campaign, a charm offensive that the gas industry launched last week, Foster says that in his crystal ball, as he put it, he can “see some pushback coming our way”.

“This campaign will send the all-electric fundamentalists into overdrive”, he writes on the EUA website. “They’ll wheel out ‘independent’ academics; pint-sized pundits will take to Twitter; the attack will suggest that this is the work of the evil ‘fossil-fuel lobby’. It will be fierce but short-lived. They have nothing new to say. Frankly, they have nothing of interest to say.”

In other words, he’s telling his followers to ignore anyone who disagrees with him — they are not worth listening to.

The use of inverted commas around the word “independent” is important — they are there to suggest that academics are not independent at all and should therefore not be trusted.

Presumably, this is a reference to the recent peer-reviewed paper in the scientific journal Joule, which examined 32 independent studies that discussed the decarbonization of space and water heating — and found that none of them supported the widespread use of hydrogen.

Let’s look at who Foster is actually criticising.

One of the studies was written by the International Energy Agency (IEA) — arguably the fossil-fuel industry’s most trusted information source.

Another was published by the Energy Transition Commission, whose commissioners include the chief economists of Shell and BP, as well as the CEO of Italian oil services company Saipem.

And a third was authored by consultant McKinsey, which has co-authored several very bullish reports on the future for clean hydrogen in conjunction with the fossil-fuel-led lobby group, the Hydrogen Council.

A fourth was by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — whose reports literally have to be signed off by every country in the world; and another was written by the International Renewable Energy Agency, which is arguably more bullish on clean hydrogen than the IEA, stating that a third of the 409 million tonnes of H2 it expects to be used annually by 2050 would be blue in a 1.5°C scenario.

Let’s not forget that another Trump trait is accusing others of doing the nefarious things that he himself is doing.

And that “fundamentalists” are those who rigidly adhere to their beliefs despite evidence to the contrary and are intolerant of other views — a description more suited to Mr Foster than any of his critics.

In more than five years of writing about hydrogen and 13 years working in the renewable energy space, I have not come across anyone who could reasonably be described as an “all-electric fundamentalist”.

In my experience, every single person or entity arguing that using hydrogen for heating would be expensive and incredibly hard to achieve — based on evidence — also believes that H2 will be vital in the race to net zero, as all-electric solutions are highly unlikely to be able to decarbonise polluting sectors such as steel, fertilizer, chemicals, shipping and aviation.

And “pint-sized” is an adjective to describe someone who is smaller than normal, or smaller than they should be — Foster is literally belittling those that disagree with him.

Or perhaps it is a rather rude reference to the height of analyst Michael Liebreich, who wrote his own article last week accusing those people pushing the use of hydrogen for heating as “grifters”.

“By grifters, I mean people lobbying for money for something that they know perfectly well either won't work, or if it does, it would be to the detriment of the very people who have to foot the bill,” Liebreich wrote in a LinkedIn post.

Foster — who is frequently quoted as an expert in British right-wing newspapers such as the Daily Express — goes on to say that “the vast majority of people will make the obvious choice” by replacing their gas boilers with H2 boilers.

He seems to be basing such a belief purely on the current high capital cost of heat pumps in the UK — ignoring the running costs, the challenges of sourcing clean hydrogen and the fact that precious H2 should be prioritized for sectors where electric solutions are not possible — including decarbonising the 90 million tonnes of grey hydrogen currently polluting the planet.

According to the 32 independent studies, costs would be anywhere from 40% to 1,000% higher than heat pumps, depending on location and other factors.

So why would a hydrogen boiler be the obvious choice?

Foster resorts to an outright lie and very short-termist arguments: “While heat pumps have a role to play, the overwhelming majority of people either live in a property not suitable for them; can’t afford the capital cost; don’t want the disruption and in these uncertain times, don’t want the bother of even worrying about the decision.”

Heat pumps are actually suitable for the vast majority of homes — the oft-quoted notion that they won’t work in draughty homes or cold countries has long been debunked. The biggest buyers of air-source heat pumps are actually Scandinavians, who know a thing or two about cold weather. And heat pumps are basically air conditioning units in reverse, which are common place on the walls and roofs of houses and high-rise apartments all over the world.

Yes, heat pumps would require indoor water heaters too, but these are about the same size as gas boilers, so the notion that there will not be enough space for them seems overblown at best, and misleading at worst.

His other argument is that the capital cost of heat pumps is too high. That is true today, certainly in the UK, but there is nothing fundamentally complex or expensive about the technology that would prevent costs falling in the coming years with economies of scale. After all, when solar panels and wind turbines reached mass production, the cost of solar and wind power fell by 82% and 40% respectively (between 2010 and 2019, according to Irena).

And according to research by energy consultants Delta-EE in 2021, the cost of heat pumps could fall by up to 40% by 2031.

Even the fiercest proponents of hydrogen heating do not expect 100% hydrogen to be available for heating before 2030 — by which time heat pumps would inevitably be far cheaper than they are today, especially as demand is growing fast.

The overwhelming majority of people, Foster continues, “will opt to change the gas and keep their boiler”.

That seems unlikely, given the costs outlined by the independent studies, and when people realise the difficulties of sourcing clean hydrogen.

Using green hydrogen would require five to six times more renewable electricity than using that power directly in heat pumps, while blue hydrogen burned in boilers would require about three times more natural gas to produce the same amount of heat as gas boilers, due to the lower volumetric energy density of H2 compared to methane.

It simply cannot be a good idea to massively increase the demand for fossil gas during a climate emergency, with all the upstream methane emissions that entails — not to mention the ongoing gas price crisis in Europe and around the world, which doesn’t look like going away any time soon.

And should we really be building five to six times as many wind turbines and solar panels just so people can have higher heating bills — and so the gas distributors and boiler makers that pay membership to the EUA can continue their current business model?

The simple truth is that the vast majority of people will want the cheapest option possible. And that will not be hydrogen.

But don’t take my word for it, look at what the independent experts say — and always question those who choose insults over evidence.

Leigh Collins is editor of Hydrogen Insight, which takes an evidence-based approach to its coverage of the hydrogen market.