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Broad coalition calls on EU not to rely on hydrogen to decarbonise buildings

Thirty-three businesses, industry associations, NGOs and think tanks are urging the European Commission to prioritise available efficient and sustainable solutions to decarbonise Europe’s building stock and avoid the direct use of hydrogen for this purpose.

Addressing EU Commission Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans in an open letter, the co-signatories underlined that to achieve a higher 2030 EU climate target, massive emissions reductions in the building sector will be needed (<60 per cent compared to 2015). This requires applying the energy efficiency first principle and boosting the integration of renewables, as envisaged by the Renovation Wave strategy.

“To achieve higher emission reductions by 2030, the EU must act fast to decarbonise buildings as one of the most energy consuming and polluting sectors,” said Monica Frassoni, President of the European Alliance to Save Energy (EU-ASE), one of the signatories. “To make this happen, we need to prioritise energy efficiency and renewables, while using hydrogen to decarbonise harder-to-abate sectors, like chemicals and steel.”

Earlier in November, EU-ASE had already highlighted that meeting the EU’s goal to achieve a climate-neutral economy by 2050 would require an enormous reduction in gas demand, but with a focus on immediately available and cost-effective solutions. The keywords were energy efficiency and renewables, especially for buildings.

While it is true that renewable hydrogen can play a role in decarbonising hard-to-abate sectors, its direct use for heating on a large scale is problematic because it comes with many uncertainties linked to the scalability, costs of its production and inefficiencies, the letter says.

Indeed, as highlighted in a recent report published by environmental organisation ECOS, hydrogen produced from renewable will be limited in amount and highly valuable. Besides the limited amounts of hydrogen available, there are also concerns about safety when burning hydrogen for heating, in particular associated with its high flammability. 

To optimise the process of heat decarbonisation in the medium and long-term, the EU should favour energy efficiency options as they can immediately deliver real carbon savings while accommodating a growing share of renewable sources.

The co-signatories called on the Commission not to overestimate the potential of zero-emission gas, which would be mostly imported from abroad. Doing that would constrain EU taxpayers to fund unnecessary infrastructures, such as gas pipelines (or their upgrade), diverting financial resources from immediately applicable and more sustainable heat decarbonisation solutions.

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