Hydrogen important impulse for entirely CO2-neutral heat networks

18 October 2018

Hydrogen for heat networks offers perspectives and, in favourable situations, can already make a sustainable contribution to the energy supply. This applies to heat networks close to current hydrogen pipelines, based on an input with ‘blue’ hydrogen made from methane in combination with CO2 capture and storage. The use of green hydrogen (made with wind and solar power) will be financially viable from 2030, when this will be used for peak demand in addition to the main source (residual heat or geothermal energy).

This was shown in a strategic study by Berenschot, commissioned by Energie Beheer Nederland (EBN) and Gasterra. The study explored the potential of hydrogen as sustainable source for heat networks. This was based on a supply model in which hydrogen is converted into heat at district level. The hydrogen thus does not enter homes that are connected to the heat network. This enables us to build on experience already gained with respect to heat networks and hydrogen on an industrial scale. The study demonstrates the integrated costs for the use of hydrogen as CO2-neutral fuel for four different types of collective heat supplies. The cases that were researched are:

  1. hydrogen for block/community heating (case 1)
  2. hydrogen boiler as primary supply for a heat network (case 2)
  3. geothermal energy baseload combined with a hydrogen peak boiler (case 3)
  4. hydrogen cogeneration or fuel cell combined with a hydrogen peak boiler (case 4).

The business cases were calculated for CO2-free hydrogen, which is ‘blue’ hydrogen (from natural gas with CO2 capture) or ‘green’ hydrogen (from sustainable electricity with electrolysis). All situations used the current gas reference as criterion for a business case. In addition, a large-scale hydrogen infrastructure was assumed for the long term (as conversion of the current high-pressure gas network). Because of the need for a hydrogen network, the study also outlined a partial conversion of the current main gas network through a kick-start with blue hydrogen, in advance of the green hydrogen that will later be introduced in phases.

Four important lessons:

  • Hydrogen for heat networks offers perspective and, in certain cases, a business case is already possible with blue hydrogen production. The use of green hydrogen is for now only economically viable from 2030 and only when this is used for peak demand.
  • There are opportunities for hydrogen in places where a hydrogen infrastructure already exists. In these places it may be possible to extend to supply the neighbouring heat demand and in doing so, realise the necessary infrastructure scale. Existing co-firing boilers from heat networks may already offer perspective to become CO2-free in the form of hydrogen boilers, by changing the burners.
  • The cost-effectiveness of the heat networks is better for less well insulated homes and high-rise buildings. This can be favourable for older inner cities and existing flats where building insulation is difficult and costly, which generally makes an ‘all electric’ solution difficult to realise.
  • The perspective lies in further investigating possible practice cases in cooperation with stakeholders. In this, it is important to involve the right stakeholders: heat companies are open for dialogue, but are searching for hydrogen providers and interested parties.

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