May 24. 2024. 6:02

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Consumers shouldn’t have to pick up the bill for expensive hydrogen experiments


Opening the door to hybrid heat pumps and hydrogen boilers will impact consumers, and make it more difficult for them to transition to clean heating while increasing energy costs, argues Monique Goyens.

Consumers will be left picking up the bill for expensive experiments in hydrogen heating if changes currently going through the European Parliament survive. This could have a major impact on energy bills, which are already going through the roof and driving inflation across the continent.

That’s because Parliament’s ITRE Committee recently gave its rubber stamp of approval to important amendments to the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive.

Opening the door to even higher energy bills

These changes – if they survive a plenary vote in Parliament and negotiations with the Council – will open the door to hybrid heat pumps (renewables/hydrogen) or hydrogen boilers being installed in new or deeply renovated buildings.

This will have a significant impact on consumers’ energy bills, which have already been going through the roof since before the war in Ukraine began. Countless studies – including our own – have shown that heat pumps are the cheapest green heating solution available to consumers.

The shift away from fossil gas is necessary and urgent, to secure both our energy security and meet our climate objectives. Opening the door to hydrogen boilers will mean higher energy costs for consumers: both the energy itself and in continuing to pay for the existing gas infrastructure (in the shape of network tariffs) to transport it to their homes.

With all the current hype around hydrogen, many consumers will be convinced into buying one, locking them into a more expensive heating solution for potentially a decade or more.

In addition, the fact that hydrogen as a heating solution has yet to take off speaks volumes about its future potential and its relevance as a solution for consumers.

Contrast this with the growth in sales of heat pumps. Although they were slow to start, they are now accelerating rapidly across Europe.

There are also safety concerns about hydrogen. A safety assessment carried out by engineering firm ARUP for a project sponsored by the UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) showed that fire and explosions were three to four times more likely with hydrogen compared with natural gas.

Hurdles to making homes heat pump ready

The most practical solution would be to make our homes more energy efficient so that they are ‘heat pump ready’. This would also help consumers to save considerably on their energy bills.

Too often, consumers end up paying to ‘heat the clouds’ above their homes due to poorly insulated parts of their homes, such as the roof or windows, that allow precious heat to escape.

Although MEPs made a welcome move to ensure the right financing options are available to help vulnerable consumers to renovate their homes, significant barriers will remain.

This is because, if the Parliament gets its way, consumers will be unable to see from their Energy Performance Certificate whether their home is ready for a heat pump or not – in other words, whether it is sufficiently insulated or not.

Even if it is, necessary guidance on what next steps to take, or who to contact, to install the heat pump would also be missing.

This kind of information is vital. Investing in a heat pump already represents a significant financial obstacle for many consumers.

This will be made all the more difficult if they are left in the dark about whether their home is heat pump-ready, opening the door to some costly mistakes, as heat pumps only function well in energy-efficient buildings.

Time to make the green heating transition easier

For many consumers, the transition to sustainable heating is still too difficult. There are big up-front investment costs and issues with installation.

Unfortunately, this vote would make it even more difficult for consumers to make that transition, by clouding the picture about which technology to opt for and depriving them of key information.

Consumers have already paid too much for the energy crisis. European decision makers should now ensure that all efforts are focused on accelerating the transition to proven technologies like heat pumps, instead of over-hyped and unproven ones like hydrogen.

If not, consumers will be left picking up the bill for decades to come.