The Dutch government has great ambitions for hydrogen. The National Hydrogen Program demonstrates that the government wants to go all-out for hydrogen as the energy system of the future. But how are our hydrogen society and economy faring? In the summer series The ‘The Netherlands, Hydrogen Land’, we discuss the current state of affairs with technicians and scientists on the basis of themes from the National Hydrogen Programme. In the fourth installment: heating houses and buildings. Read the whole series here
The National Hydrogen Program
At the beginning of July, the National Hydrogen Program (NWP) was presented to the Secretary of State by the cross-sectoral working group hydrogen (CSWW). CSWW is a collaboration between 19 organizations. The program stems from the government’s National Climate Agreement. The cabinet’s vision for hydrogen contains the policy agenda in which the central government’s commitment is laid out further. The period up to and including 2021 is the preparatory phase for the actual scaling up and roll-out of hydrogen from 2022 onwards. The second phase of the NWP – which is actually the real start – Is set to commence on 1 January 2022.
In the Netherlands, newly built homes have no longer been connected to natural gas since July 1, 2018. But what do you do with the already existing homes that also have to be climate neutral by 2050? Hydrogen seems like it could be a solution. But environmental organizations such as Natuur & Milieu (Nature and Environment) are expressing reservations about it.
Michelle Prins, program manager for sustainable industry at Natuur & Milieu, sat at the ‘industry’ round table during the climate agreement. She negotiated on behalf of the environmental movement and also collaborated on the NWP. “We see it happening more and more often that hydrogen is presented as the solution to all sustainability issues. That is not how we see it. For us, green hydrogen primarily has a priority in making the industry more sustainable. Because that is where CO2 emissions are highest and there are no other alternatives.”
In its own publication, the environmental organization debunks five myths about hydrogen and has created a hydrogen ladder that prioritizes where hydrogen should be used. “Our message is that we definitely need hydrogen. However, it is not the solution for everything.”
Stad aan ‘t Haringvliet
The NWP spells out its ambition that there should be a clear idea by 2030 of how hydrogen can help make homes and buildings climate-neutral by 2050. It states that hydrogen can make a significant contribution to heating our homes over the longer term. According to various studies, there is definitely potential for this, but there are still important issues around applicability, safety, availability, sustainability, and affordability. According to the NWP, the first task is to get the preconditions right for the safe application of hydrogen in built-up environments.
One of the projects contributing to these preconditions is Stad aan ‘t Haringvliet. This project aims to supply green electricity made with green wind power, to around 600 homes by mid-2025. “Provided that the residents opt to do it,” emphasizes Silvan de Boer, Business developer New Energy Development at the Eneco energy company.
As part of the H2GO program, the municipality, Eneco, grid manager Stedin, Deltawind, Hygro, Gasunie, the Oost West housing cooperation, and the filling station operator Greenpoint are working together to produce hydrogen and use it to heat homes. A village council is representing the residents. De Boer: “We want to be able to supply hydrogen to local residents. The project demonstrates how the entire chain works.”
According to De Boer, “you only do this in neighborhoods where you are unable to offer other sustainable solutions.” Insulation, electrification and hybrid solutions such as a hydrogen boiler combined with a heat pump are the first options De Boer mentions. “But some houses are too old or are historic monuments and then often green hydrogen or green gas is the only affordable solution to get rid of natural gas.”
Eneco, as a major natural gas supplier, is a proponent of offering hydrogen as an alternative to natural gas in those old houses or monumental buildings. “It is often said that you have to use green hydrogen first as a raw material for industry, agriculture, shipping and aviation. We have a different view on that. In many existing neighborhoods, you do not have any other choice when it comes to making them more sustainable.”
The Green Village
Within The Green Village (the living lab for sustainable innovation in our neighborhoods and located on the Delft University of Technology campus), researchers and companies are looking at what hydrogen can do for the energy system of neighborhood districts. In one of the larger projects, network operators are investigating together how the existing natural gas network can be adapted to hydrogen. This has resulted in a small gas network for hydrogen at The Green Village: the Hydrogen Street. There are also inhabited houses on this testing ground.
For example, the company gAvilar, a specialist in regulatory equipment for gas distribution, is working on products such as a gas pressure regulation systems and safety systems. The company, alongside Flamco, Het Internet Huis, PIA Automation, Beutech, Breman, and Empuls, is a partner in the [email protected] project, This is subsidized by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency. “As gAvilar, we like to really show how an indoor hydrogen facility can work safely and reliably in an existing environment,” says Lianne Mostert, project manager at gAvilar. For instance, the company will soon be testing a sensor that can detect a hydrogen leak and trigger the supply of hydrogen to stop.
Learning from each other
“That’s the beauty of The Green Village,” says Arnoud van der Zee, program manager for energy transition at The Green Village. “This is not only the perfect place to test your innovation but also for sharing knowledge. We bring people together in the built-up environment so that they can learn from each other. Not only about the subject of hydrogen. There are also tests taking place with heat network innovations and direct current systems.” For the time being, it is mainly policymakers from The Hague or from municipalities who drop by to take a look, Van der Zee informs us. His colleague Lidewij van Trigt is in charge of the hydrogen-related projects.
“If you are talking about climate neutrality in 2050, then we believe that you cannot avoid doing something with hydrogen in the built-up environment as well,” Van der Zee contends. “It will not be the most important thing, but the fact that we are going to do something with it is abundantly clear.” According to van der Zee, all sources of renewable energy will be needed in order to become climate-neutral. “And even then we won’t have enough energy and will have to import it from Africa or Spain, for example.”
For the time being, it is the cost of such a hydrogen system that means hydrogen will not be able to play a major role in heating our homes as yet, Van der Zee goes on to say. “The cost of the equipment that is needed is high. Plus you have to deal with enormous energy losses when producing green hydrogen. But if we can get these aspects better under control, then hydrogen can definitely play a role in the built-up environment.”
Despite the fact that the use of hydrogen as a solution for heating our homes is not a top priority, Michelle Prins, of Milieu & Natuur, predicts that hydrogen will play a limited role. In this regard, she is especially concerned that people are going to wait around for hydrogen. “There are people who do not want solar fields or windmills, for instance. And they are not keen on heat pumps either. They reassure themselves with the thought that hydrogen will soon be flowing through the existing network of gas pipelines. But that is just not true. Green hydrogen does not exist yet and it will also need solar parks and wind turbines. That’s why we need to get to work on heat pumps and heat networks now.”
Not sitting around waiting
Knowledge is also needed on what hydrogen can mean in the built-up environment, says Prins. So that by 2030, that clear idea of what hydrogen can signify in terms of climate neutrality of homes will emerge. “It also depends on how the alternatives develop. If heat pumps and heat networks take off, hydrogen will be less of an issue. And what are we going to produce ourselves in the Netherlands and what are we going to import?” By doing this, we need to gain experience of what can and cannot be done. As is being done in The Green Village. “Government, industry, and civic organizations must work together to create a vision that makes it clear where we are going to put most of our hydrogen to use. And where we are going to promote it.”
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