With all these positives come a few drawbacks, including low energy density, high production costs, and challenges with storage and transportation. Plus, builders need to set up new infrastructure. These challenges explain why hydrogen is not practical for home heating — yet.
There are a few ways to interpret why hydrogen is so expensive. Producing clean hydrogen uses novel and costly technologies, while legacy methods are expensive and inefficient. Plus, it does not make enough for the effort when transporting it requires special storage, which is another hefty expense.
Professionals designate hydrogen in colors, despite its invisibility. Green hydrogen is the cleanest form and leverages electrolysis to separate water into its elemental parts to reuse as energy. Blue hydrogen is one of the most common in production and has a questionable source.
Fossil fuels like natural gas emit hydrogen as a byproduct of production, which fossil fuel companies can capture and store as blue hydrogen. Green hydrogen could be entirely clean and powered by renewables. Blue hydrogen muddies a potentially carbon-neutral energy production method. But, it could expedite hydrogen implementation as the world continues to use fossil fuels and alternative energy sources are required to meet climate goals.
Other energy sources have high costs, but comparing them to hydrogen cleans up the financial reputation of other fuels. Electrolysis plants cost millions, and legislative action for solar has driven down the prices of inverters and other hardware. Even wind power is seeing cost reduction as offshore alternatives become cheaper and more sustainable.
Comparing hydrogen to other fuels demonstrates why it could not be a viable option for home heating until researchers can ramp it up significantly. If homes relied on hydrogen energy in its current state, it would adversely affect them when they already produce 441 million tons of greenhouse gases from HVAC systems.
Utility bills would skyrocket as the low energy density makes the HVACs perform inefficiently when homes already need retrofitting with more energy-efficient equipment by incorporating more eco-friendly and smart technology.
It is to the point where experts suggest using hydrogen to power heat pumps instead of a whole home heating system — families would use five times as much electricity as other sources. When most of it is blue hydrogen, using five times as much energy means five times as much reliance on fossil fuels.
Another issue against hydrogen fueling homes is it is not the safest fuel to store or transport. As a gas, hydrogen must be sealed in a high-pressure capable tank — as a liquid, dangerous cryogenic temperatures are the only option. Fuel cell electric vehicles are experimenting with these heavy-duty air-holding tanks at such high pressures that it increases driver risk. For households, too, this means increased fire hazards.
The inability for it to travel is the major hurdle in mass adoption. That impact on feasibility could make it only viable if experts innovate on traditional methods. Other renewable energy storage solutions — like batteries — are easier to manufacture and install with more significant ROI, so it is natural for corporations and governments to choose options like solar over hydrogen.
First, existing infrastructure must either learn to meld with hydrogen energy generation or upgrade to meet the new technological standards. How could these changes to critical infrastructure manifest?
Experts are attempting to repurpose or retrofit existing pipelines for gas networks to transport and store hydrogen in a process called hydrogen blending, which mixes it with natural gas to test transportation speeds and pipeline durability. If experts find a way to utilize existing infrastructure this way, adoption could come more swiftly.
Otherwise, installing new pipes and additional peripherals could cost nations exorbitant amounts that taxpayers might feel reluctant to help fund. It is one of the challenges associated with these sweeping edits, with the largest being cost and citizen buy-in.
Researchers have to invest in refining hydrogen solutions. It is not viable for residential use because it is difficult to transport and justify the costs with the technology still in its infancy. Currently, households can look to geothermal heat pumps or solar panels until hydrogen becomes more sustainable — these are abundant clean energy sources for heating homes.
Most locations make these reliable and stable with minimal upkeep other than regular inspections and maintenance.