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Home Innovation Decarbonising Europe’s buildings: the key is energy efficiency, not hydrogen

Decarbonising Europe’s buildings: the key is energy efficiency, not hydrogen

The European Alliance to Save Energy (EU-ASE) highlighted in its latest paper that meeting the EU’s goal to achieve a climate-neutral economy by 2050 will require an enormous reduction in gas demand, but with a focus on immediately available and cost-effective solutions. The key words are energy efficiency and renewables, especially for buildings.

The European Commission’s modelling for the proposed 2030 targets suggests that massive emission reduction in the buildings sector is expected over the next ten years. In this context, the impact of energy efficiency measures needs to be factored into all future projects and policies.

“To optimise the process of heat decarbonisation, the deployment of technologies for direct electrification, which are already available, should be accelerated and a careful analysis and mappings of heating and cooling supply and demand potential should be carried out,” read the EU-ASE’s paper. “Depending on the results of this exercise, various options are available, including electric heating through heat pumps using renewable electricity and highly efficient district heating and cooling networks, as proposed in the EU Heating and Cooling Strategy and in the Energy sector integration strategy.”

When we talk about hydrogen, only green hydrogen can be considered net-zero compatible. But as this hydrogen is produced from renewable electricity, it faces limitations in terms of cost and scale, meaning its future availability and demand remains uncertain. For heating in buildings, there are more cost-effective and immediately applicable solutions then hydrogen, that need to be prioritised for the efficient decarbonisation of Europe’s building stock. For example, it takes about five times more wind or solar electricity to heat a home with hydrogen than it takes to heat the same home with an efficient heat pump.

Moreover, the EU Long-term Strategy suggests that European renewable hydrogen supply could meet only 15 per cent of today’s gas demand, hence most zero-carbon hydrogen will have to be supplied by imports, that are likely to have a negative impact on the costs and on Europe’s security of energy supply, furthermore, it will inevitably generate additional emissions.

And a not negligible point of view, that the transition towards a more expensive fuel such as hydrogen could negatively impact vulnerable consumers who often cannot afford costly switches to zero emissions heating solutions.

To conclude, the use of green hydrogen should be limited to hard-to-abate sectors and in connection with the heat policy for decarbonisation of our buildings policymakers should apply the energy efficiency as a first principle to the energy system.

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