Hydrogen in the Dutch built environment

Exploring the transition from natural gas to hydrogen based heating in the Dutch built environment through Socio-Technical Scenarios

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The Dutch government published a Climate Accord in 2019 which stated that all houses in the Netherlands should be heated without CO2 emissions. The Dutch built environment is currently being heated with natural gas which forces actors within the heating system of the Dutch built environment to look for new technologies. At the same time, the increasing electricity demand results in grid congestion.

This thesis investigates the use of hydrogen for heating homes in the Netherlands and explores different future scenarios. The research question that is being answered in this thesis is “What is the development status of the hydrogen niche for heating homes in the Dutch-built environment and which socio-technical scenarios can be expected?’’. The theoretical frameworks, Multi-level Perspective, Strategic Niche Management, and Socio-technical scenarios were complementary used to analyse the context. With these theories, the interaction between technology and social elements have been analysed. Additionally, a qualitative study is executed by conducting 14 semi-structured interviews with experts from the field.

There are various hydrogen technologies developed for built environments. Some technologies are focussed on space heating like the hydrogen boilers in combination with a heat pump. While there are also technologies being developed which are primarily aimed at addressing the electrical net congestion challenge like fuel cells. These fuel cells also enable decentralized hydrogen production and storage. However, the feasibility is doubted among the interviewers due to limited scalability and safety concerns.

Currently, the top-of-mind barriers regarding the adoption of hydrogen in the Dutch built environment are mainly the uncertainty about the availability of green hydrogen, future prices, labour shortage, and user acceptance. The dominant barrier is the uncertainty about hydrogen availability. Due to still lacking availability of hydrogen companies are hesitant to invest resources in the development of hydrogen applications. The barrier labour shortage has not been found in previous literature, which makes this finding a novel contributions to academic research.

In this study 2 socio-technical scenarios regarding hydrogen in the Dutch built environment are formulated. In scenario 1 a reconfiguration transition occurs, whereas in scenario 2 a transformational transition occurs. These scenarios differ on the extent the electricity grid congestion is resolved. In both scenarios an extensive international hydrogen market established. Scenario 1 deals with a large amount of hydrogen and poor electricity grid capacity. In this scenario, hydrogen will be used as an alternative energy carrier to the built environment by utilizing fuel cells. Scenario 1's demonstration that fuel cells can be part of the solution for the electricity grid congestion. In scenario 2, the hydrogen economy is established and there is a resolved grid issue, which will lead to hydrogen being used for direct space heating.

This study shows how the niche could react to the development of hydrogen availability and the ability of the network operator’s electricity grid capacity in determining the role of hydrogen in the Dutch built environment. Additionally, it underscores the significance of government commitment and proactive policies for sustainable energy transitions.