Allendorf (Eder), The latest special report by the Federal Court of Audit (BRH) makes it clear: The energy transition faces considerable challenges in terms of both affordability and energy security. “In comparison to the rest of Europe, private households in Germany paid the highest price for electricity in 2019, at just under 30.9 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh),” says the BRH. This electricity price is 43 percent higher than the EU average. In addition, commercial and industry consumers paid 13 to 30 percent above the average.
As well as an affordable energy supply, the BRH’s report also casts doubt on the long-term reliability of the electricity supply. It considers the German government’s plans to be partly too optimistic, partly implausible and it believes the coal phase-out is not sufficiently taken into account: An enormous capacity deficit of up to 4.5 gigawatts threatens the German electricity grid after the coal phase-out. At the same time, the demand for electricity is growing due to the increasing expansion of electrical appliances in the mobility and heating sectors.
Viessmann and leading energy experts are therefore calling for much greater consideration of hydrogen in order to achieve a secure and affordable energy and heating transition: A recent study by Frontier Economics, led by Dr. David Bothe and Dr. Matthias Janssen, “The role of hydrogen in the heating market” found that the use of hydrogen could reduce the overall system costs of decarbonisation in the heating sector and relieve financial strains on low-income households in particular. In addition, the heating sector can support the increased hydrogen supply in the market and Germany’s development towards a hydrogen economy through its secure demand for hydrogen.
Furthermore, according to the study, the diversity of the building stock in Germany stands in favour of ensuring today’s political decisions keep our technological options open and is by all means against betting everything on one or a few technology options today already.
According to the Frontier study, the decarbonisation of the heating sector envisaged by policymakers also poses major challenges for the energy system in terms of generation, storage and transportation, all of which must be taken into account. As the Frontier study has established, hydrogen and climate-neutral gases can make an invaluable contribution to overcoming the challenges of decarbonisation, particularly due to their excellent ability to be stored, transported and imported and should therefore be part of the future energy carriers and technology mix.
“We should use all options,” Holger Lösch, Deputy Managing Director of BDI e.V, emphasises the importance of the use of hydrogen and adds: “We need to break away from the political thinking that we have been following for many years: That everything can be settled with ‘electricity’ and ‘efficiency’. It is clear that a large amount of liquid and gas energy carriers will always be needed for the energy transition to succeed.”
Thorsten Herdan, Head of Department II "Energy Policy - Heat and Efficiency" at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, also shares this view: “‘The electron’ alone can’t bring about the heating transition, the energy transition and climate neutrality.” Herdan continues: “Anyone who believes that hydrogen has no role to play in the heating market must have a crystal ball and know something we don’t.” The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and Herdan, however, do not share this belief that hydrogen has no role to play.
Gunda Röstel, Managing Director of Stadtentwicklung Dresen GmbH, also opposes “the German government’s first draft” and advocates for a mix of technologies: “We are fortunate to have at least two main options in the heating sector, namely a future with gas and a future with electricity.”
The question whether there will in fact be any demand for hydrogen in Germany is not one that concerns the energy expert: “Since the whole world is currently investing in hydrogen, it is very difficult to imagine that there would be no market for it in Germany. For this very reason, the heating sector is an important factor to enable the increased hydrogen supply in the energy market as a whole.”
With regard to the security of the electricity supply in Germany, Dr. David Bothe also points out that a purely electricity-driven heat transition could put too much pressure on the grid, as the capacity to generate electricity has been reduced due to the nuclear phase-out, for example. “On the other hand, we have something in Germany that is envied by other countries,” says Bothe, “and that is a well-developed gas grid. The existing gas infrastructure could alleviate the pressures on the electricity grid in the energy and heating transition and transport renewable energies to the consumer through using hydrogen.
From Viessmann’s point of view, this is a simple “no-regret-move” for consumers as new gas heating systems are H2-ready and can therefore safely process up to 20 percent hydrogen initially and can later be quickly adapted to be 100 percent hydrogen ready through a “retrofit” conversion. Max Viessmann, CEO Viessmann Group, says:
“Climate protection is not a short-term consideration. We have a demand for hydrogen in the heating sector and looking forward, we must make long-term decisions today. In order to do so, the global supply chain must be considered when sourcing hydrogen and investment security must be ensured for the industry with stable demand.”
Already H2-ready today- a move that Thorsten Herdan sees as ‘smart’, not only in terms of technology, but also for the potentially fast expansion of hydrogen in the market.
For Dr. David Bothe it is clear: ‘Hydrogen can contribute to the decarbonisation of the heating sector and should be part of the energy mix.” And Thorsten Herdan adds: “It cannot be that the German government is there to dictate which technologies the sector choses. Therefore, it is also clear that in the next revision of the Building Energy Act, we will have to consider how we can make hydrogen a more credible option.”