Heat pumps and district heating instead of hydrogen needed for Berlin’s heating transition – analysis

(Clean Energy Wire, 7 Dec 2023) Berlin’s heating transition should not rely on hydrogen as a replacement for natural gas, as current plans envisage, an analysis by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) has found. Instead, the transition should be based on a combination of district heating and solar-powered heat pumps.

The German capital, which currently sources about 60 percent of its heating energy from natural gas, plans to adopt a heating transition plan by 2026 as a key step on its envisaged path towards climate neutrality by 2045. Plans by Berlin’s biggest energy companies, Vattenfall and Gasag, include a substantial share of hydrogen in heating in the next years. “These plans contradict Berlin’s climate targets and ultimately the energy and security goals of Germany,” the DIW researchers said. 

Relying on hydrogen for heating would “create new dependencies” as hydrogen cannot be produced domestically in sufficient amounts. By contrast, “electricity from renewable sources and heat pumps are the most efficient way to ensure Berlin’s heat supply after natural gas,” researcher Franziska Holz said. High conversion losses in hydrogen production would make the synthetic fuel much less efficient and more costly than direct electricity use. Large and centralised heat pumps, for example in rivers, industry plants or in sewage treatment facilities would allow a cheaper and more efficient way to heat the country’s largest city with a population of about 3.8 million people.

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Clean Energy Wire, 7 Dec 2023: Heat pumps and district heating instead of hydrogen needed for Berlin’s heating transition – analysis