The European Commission (EC) is expecting to see 1.3 million tonnes (mt) of green hydrogen to be blended into the natural gas network by 2030, according to a document published as part of its European REPowerEU package announced on Wednesday — raising the spectre of even higher heating costs for consumers with only marginal emissions reductions.
REPowerEU called for 20mt of renewable H2 to be utilised inside the bloc by 2030, with a focus on replacing all current grey hydrogen production. But the European Commission’s own internal analysis — as seen in a so-called Staff Working Document — suggest that it believes neither will be achieved by the end of the decade.
A table showing forecasted hydrogen use by sector suggests that only 16.2mt of hydrogen would be consumed within the EU in 2030 — with 2.2mt used by refineries and 3.2mt by the chemicals sector, the two main uses of highly polluting grey hydrogen today.
A further 3.6mt would be used for industrial heat, 2.3mt for transport, 1.8mt for synthetic fuels, 1.5mt for blast furnaces, 105,000 tonnes for power generation, and 1.3mt for blending.
In its analysis, the Commission said that 1.3 million tonnes of green hydrogen blended into the European gas network would replace Russian gas to the tune of 4.7 billion cubic metres — around 3% of total Russian volumes imported in 2021.
But blending up to 20% hydrogen into the natural gas grid — the maximum technical limit for existing boilers and cookers — has been widely criticised, as it would raise consumer costs by about a third, while only reducing emissions by 6-7% because H2 has roughly three times less energy density by volume than fossil gas.
The inclusion of hydrogen blending in REPowerEU forecasts is surprising, not least because the Commission has doubts over its effectiveness.
“Blending hydrogen into the natural gas grid requires careful consideration as it diminishes gas quality, can increase overall system costs and the costs of heating for the residential sector, and it is in most applications a less efficient alternative to direct electrification,” the document says.
Ramping up blending requires consideration of “all consequences and costs…including overall system costs and adaptation costs for households and industrial end users”, it said.
“For example, the costs for end users and infrastructure operators to adapt to a 5% blending level (by volume) would amount to around €3.6bn per year.”
Dominic Eagleton, senior campaigner at human rights group Global Witness, tells Recharge: “Blending hydrogen only serves to greenwash the gas industry. It would push up costs for households, do little to reduce emissions, lock-in existing gas infrastructure and delay the urgently needed phaseout of fossil gas.”
As a method of reducing emissions, blending would be among the most expensive. According to a report released earlier this month by the International Renewable Energy Agency: “Blending leads to limited CO2 benefits and to a large increase in energy cost. This translates into a very high cost of mitigating the GHG emissions of natural gas. Given the current production cost for renewable hydrogen, the cost may be above $500 per tonne of CO2, for most gas prices.”
This would place it among the most expensive possible ways to limit CO2 emissions — potentially even higher than direct-air carbon capture, which Climeworks currently prices at $1,000 per tonne of captured CO2, but expects to fall to $200 within four years.
German climate think-tank Agora Energiewende calculated in a study last year that adding 20% hydrogen to the gas grid would increase consumer heating costs by 33% in 2030.
In addition to concerns over cost and the limited climate benefits, Irena explains that there are significant technical issues with hydrogen blending.
“Each component of the gas network has a different tolerance to hydrogen. The limit for the network is defined by its least tolerant component. Existing has turbines, compressors, metering equipment, CNG [compressed natural gas] tanks and industrial users are among the most sensitive components.
“Most downstream [gas] users are tolerant to a few percentage points of hydrogen… This means that if any of these applications is on the network, the blending limit will be low.”