13 Jun 2024, 13:01
Benjamin Wehrmann

Legal experts say cities should not waste resources on uncertain hydrogen heating plans

Clean Energy Wire / Klimareporter

Supplying households with green hydrogen for heating should not play a major role in Germany’s heating sector decarbonisation because of huge planning and implementation challenges, a legal opinion commissioned by the environmental NGO Umweltinstitut München has found. Germany’s larger cities must present heating transition plans by 2026 and smaller municipalities by 2028 to identify which technologies are best suited for decarbonising heating in each area. Areas that are already equipped with a natural gas distribution grid must be examined for their conversion to transporting hydrogen – if enough of the climate neutral fuel can be made available for this location. Due to the uncertainties arising from this dual conditionality and the uncertainties in municipal planning, the legal experts say “it is not possible to reliably assume a hydrogen supply for households”. Houseowners would face “significant disadvantages” if they prepare for heating with hydrogen but ultimately don’t have access to enough of the green gas, the legal experts found. “Time and resources could be wasted on an unrealistic solution,” they argued. The experts said cities and municipalities should focus on the “realistic feasibility” of given technical solutions, rather than looking for theoretically more attractive alternatives. At the same time, authorities are legally bound to adhere to the principle of cost efficiency, which would mean that unnecessary planning efforts should be avoided, the experts added.  

“Municipalities should not plan to heat homes with hydrogen because it’s unrealistic that green hydrogen will be available in sufficient quantities at affordable prices,” energy consultant Wiebke Hansen of the Umweltinstitut München told environmental news website Klimareporter. She argued that cities and municipalities would benefit from a clear ban on using green hydrogen for heating as this would ensure no more resources are invested in analyzing and planning for a hydrogen distribution infrastructure for heating.

To clean up carbon emissions in the building sector, the bulk of which comes from burning fossil fuels to heat air and water, scientists have pushed for heat pumps running on green electricity and district heating systems powered by a variety of clean sources. The gas industry and some politicians have fought hard for hydrogen as an additional option to replace gas and oil as a fuel in homes.

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