Efforts by natural gas utilities in Massachusetts to replace 20 percent of their fossil gas supply with “green hydrogen” derived from renewable electricity would consume more clean energy than would be produced by the state’s ambitious offshore wind energy buildout in the coming years while yielding few climate benefits, according to a report published on Monday.
Using heat pumps powered by renewable energy to heat residential and commercial spaces would be a more effective use of limited clean energy resources, the report, from Gas Transition Allies, a coalition of clean energy advocacy organizations in the Bay State, concluded.
“If you were to use green hydrogen for heating, you would be using roughly three and a half times as much electricity as if you were providing the same amount of heat to buildings with heat pumps,” said Gordon Richardson, a technology and business consultant and co-author of the report.
Hydrogen, a clean fuel that does not release carbon dioxide when burned, is produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, an energy-intensive process. If the electricity used for this process comes from renewable energy sources such as wind or solar, the hydrogen it produces is considered “green.”
The report doesn’t compare the cost of green hydrogen to heat pumps. Ben Butterworth, a director with the Acadia Center, a clean energy advocacy organization based in Rockport, Maine, said costs associated with the additional renewable energy needed for green hydrogen would be tremendous.
“It’s expensive to build this renewable energy capacity at scale already, and if we’re using or requiring 3.6 times as much electricity, that really underscores the cost difference between the two,” Butterworth said.
Butterworth, who reviewed an early draft of the Gas Transition Allies report, said he sees building electrification paired with energy efficiency measures as being the “lynchpin strategy” for decarbonizing buildings in Massachusetts.
“We know this, and we have to focus on that and not be distracted by putting green hydrogen into the gas distribution system because it’s just an inferior option all around,” he said.