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Study: Heat Pumps 2–3× Cheaper Than Green Hydrogen In Europe

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Green hydrogen gets a lot of hype, and heat pumps get a lot of hype. Who wins when they go head to head? Oh, well, the title above already told you: heat pumps!

In particular, this study, published in the academic journal Energy Conversion and Management, was looking at the two options as alternatives for gas boilers in homes. This is particularly relevant has much of Europe tries to ween itself off of fossil gas, which often comes from Russia.

As the headline indicates, the study found that replacing fossil gas in homes with green hydrogen would cost about 2 to 3 times more than replacing fossil gas with electric heat pumps. The study focused on the 27 European Union (EU) member states and the UK. The study also considered “blue hydrogen,” but again, it was not cost competitive with electric heat pumps. Electric heat pumps were the only low-cost, low-environmental damage solutions the study authors could recommend.

The scientists, from ETH Zürich, looked at 13 different scenarios in total, going up to the year 2040. Looking at a chart for the 13 scenarios, the two on the right are with green (WTL_Hyd) or blue (Cost_Hyd) hydrogen. They are so much more costly than the non-hydro options.

The first two bars on the left use fossil fuel energy like today. The error bars on the other bars indicate low-cost and high-cost possibilities for the other options. Source: Weidner & Guillén-Gosálbez (2023).

Furthermore, the study authors note that blue hydrogen isn’t even zero carbon or fully sustainable. So, aside from being more expensive (but less expensive than green hydrogen), it’s illogical as a replacement for fossil gas home boilers. Even in the green hydrogen case, they indicate that having to build that much extra renewable energy generation capacity is not sustainable enough. Switching to heat pumps is the only option determined to be efficient enough in net to be adequate. Luckily, it’s also seemingly the cheaper option.

“Most heat in European homes is generated using fossil fuels, meaning residential heating is responsible for around 13% of the EU and UK’s greenhouse gas emissions,” Carbon Brief writes. “Several EU member states and the UK have so far announced phaseout dates for the installation of fossil-fuel boilers. Responding to the recent surge in gas prices, the European Commission has proposed a ban on new fossil fuel-only heating systems by 2029.”

Carbon Brief notes that aside from this new study, several others find heat pumps as the critical solution for home heating. That includes studies from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the University of Manchester, and more than 30 other studies according to Dr. Jan Rosenow, director of European programmes at the Regulatory Assistance Project. No independent studies find hydrogen to be cost competitive, according to Dr. Rosenow’s review of the research.


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