Decarbonise buildings through energy efficiency not hydrogen

By: Emilia Samuelsson

In an open letter to the EU Commission a coalition of businesses and civil society groups has urged that renewables and energy efficiency should be prioritised over hydrogen to decarbonise buildings.

For the European Union to achieve a higher 2030 EU climate target, massive emission reductions are required in the building sector, specifically a decrease of 60 percent compared to 2015. The Renovation Wave strategy includes the application of the energy-efficiency-first principle in synergy with increased renewables integration. In the coming years there are plans to renovate 35 million homes and public buildings, making them more energy efficient to reduce their massive carbon footprint.

While the European Commission puts the building renovation wave high on its agenda, many countries have been procrastinating on building renovation programmes. The Commission aims for a 32.5% improvement in energy efficiency by 2030. A review of EU member states’ national energy and climate plans shows that there is a gap of 2.8 percentage points for primary energy consumption and 3.1 percentage points for final energy consumption. “You would require at least a doubling, if not a tripling of member states’ efforts, to increase energy savings and close the gap”, said Stefan Scheuer, secretary general of the Coalition for Energy Savings.

Hydrogen has often been looked at as a solution to support the decarbonisation of the sector. Pilot projects in which hydrogen is injected into an existing gas network already exist and are on the rise. In the United Kingdom, buildings in the village of Winlaton will be some of the first in the UK to trial natural gas blended with hydrogen. About 670 houses and several businesses will receive the hydrogen blend for about 10 months, starting this year. The main reason to blend hydrogen with gas is that it doesn’t require changing existing gas distribution networks or heating systems, making decarbonisation cheaper.

In an open letter to the EU Commission, a coalition of 33 businesses and civil society organisations and think tanks highlights the risk that this is a distraction from longer-term solutions that are available now. The letter states that “to optimise the process of heat decarbonisation, energy efficiency options must be favoured because they can immediately deliver real carbon savings, while accommodating a growing share of renewable sources”.

One event that illustrated the risk of distraction was the IRENA Innovation Week, which focused on the topic of strategies of decarbonising end-use sectors. A conclusion was that there remains a collective lack of a shared vision of the trajectory sectors should follow, and a lack of planning for how to do so. Over 100 expert speakers participated from over 35 countries. The discussions demonstrated that the objective of decarbonisation is clear, but what is less clear is the strategy to achieve this. All parts of the energy system are in flux, with changes happening simultaneously on the supply and demand sides. Changes on so many fronts make it difficult to chart a clear pathway, while increasing the risk of stranded assets.

The open letter urges EU executives “not to overestimate the zero-emission gas potentials, mostly imported from abroad, because it would constrain EU consumers to fund unnecessary infrastructures, such as gas pipelines (or their upgrade) and would divert precious financial resources away from immediately applicable heat decarbonisation solutions”.

Monica Frassoni, President of the European Alliance to Save Energy (EU-ASE) has stated: “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. 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.”


Emilia Samuelsson



Open Letter Decarbonising the EU building stock with available solutions and no direct use of hydrogen


Latest accessed 13th of February 2021

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