Energy-efficient heating and cooling is essential for a resilient future.

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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[Danfoss Group Reputation and Branding / Hanna Mogensen]

Heating & cooling account for half of the final energy consumption in Europe, and most of this is still based on fossil fuels. Energy efficiency is the foundation for decarbonizing this essential sector. To make it happen, we need strong political signals – now – says Jürgen Fischer, President at Danfoss Climate Solutions.

Jürgen Fischer the President of Danfoss Climate Solutions.

It’s straight forward, but energy efficiency is still not systematically implemented – even though the technologies are at our fingertips. There is so much that can be achieved by “doing more with less” for a socially just energy transition that makes Europe’s economy more resilient and benefits European citizens and the planet alike. But experience shows that without strong political signals it simply does not happen. An ambitious and unequivocal REPower EU Plan and Fit-For-55 package can make the much-needed difference. We need pragmatic and actionable measures such as strong renovation requirements, a rapid phase-out of fossil fuel boilers, requirements on basic energy efficiency measures in buildings and mandatory heat planning for municipalities to rapidly deploy energy efficiency and reduce our dependance from fossil fuels.

Energy efficiency is commonsense and financially attractive which makes it even more surprising that we do not see it systematically happen on the ground. Take the very basic example of hydronic balancing. It can potentially save 22.6 Mtoe in domestic EU heating systems while improving thermal comfort for occupants. Yet in Germany alone, 80% to 85% of heating is still installed without hydronic balancing, even though it is a capital-light investment with payback times that are typically far below 4 years.

And it’s by no means rocket science. It simply prevents for example radiators on the ground floor from becoming boiling hot, while the upstairs are cold, forcing boiler and pumps to consume huge amounts of energy trying to remedy this situation.

The electrification of heating with heat pumps is yet another example of a technology which is highly efficient. Though the solution has been available for decades it has still not taken off. A huge, missed opportunity considering that 25% of the EU’s current fossil gas imports from Russia could be saved by 2030 through renovating and electrifying Europe’s residential buildings alone. Heat pumps are also the quickest way to decarbonize heating. By getting rid of fossil fuel boilers, they could help Europe avoid up to 600 million tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2050 – as much as 15% of all current EU greenhouse gas emissions!

District energy is the jewel in the “energy efficiency crown”, connecting the dots between buildings and the energy system and allowing to use all energy sources, including low temperature waste heat which can then be upgraded with heat pumps. Again, there is a huge untapped potential: Half of Europe’s heat demand could be covered by district energy by 2050, and low temperature district heating could achieve additional primary energy savings of 120 TWh yearly! District energy also accelerates the transition to intermittent renewables in a cost-effective way by providing increased flexibility and thermal storage with peak shaving opportunities that reduce the need for additional infrastructure.

Does all of this need to come at the expense of the consumer? Of course, this cannot be the objective. We need a socially just transition, that benefits all of us as citizens, and it’s perfectly possible. For example, upgrading buildings to energy label E by 2033 and then D by 2040 could reduce low-income household energy bills by 19% in 2050. If this is combined with a fossil fuel boiler phase-out, bills could fall by 30%. Public funding will be needed to make it happen and again, we have a golden opportunity by ensuring that for example the proposed Social Climate Fund or funding via the upcoming REPower EU plan is directed towards achieving these goals.

Finally, a word on a point which is very close to my heart: our society needs to give more attention to the important profession of installers. Without them, this work is impossible. We need more of them, and we need all of them to become our “green engineers”, who can advise consumers on the best solutions for their respective situation. Installers will also need to be equipped with the skills to adapt to our increasingly digital environment, and ready to install the millions of heat pumps that will be required and to renovate our buildings.

Let’s use this unique moment in time, with its massive challenges and opportunities, to get the framework right, and put our society on the right track, making our economy more resilient and achieving a carbon neutral future.

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