Time to act to deliver cost-effective plan to decarbonise European heating system

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

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Bioenergy Europe

Stefan Ortner is the CEO of ÖkoFEN Forschungs u. Entwicklungs GmbH.

Heating not only represents nearly half of the EU’s final energy consumption but it remains one of the most difficult sectors to decarbonise.

With 76% of its demand still supplied by fossil fuel, the EU faces an urgent need to roll out a cost-effective plan that can align environmental and energy objectives with end-users’ needs for affordable, easy-to-install, and efficient heating solutions.

If Europe is serious about achieving its energy and climate targets, we will need to modernise our heating stock. Today, almost 1 out of 4 heating installations is older than 30 years and around 60% of them are highly inefficient and would be considered in energy labelling class C and D.

This modernisation includes empowering households with the tools allowing them to replace old appliances with modern renewable heating systems. This modernisation contributes to lower GHG emissions, increases efficiency and savings, all while reducing pollution and improving air quality.

ÖkoFEN is working continuously to deploy state-of-the art technologies, fight air pollution, and delivering high quality products to consumers. Consumers are increasingly demanding more efficient green solutions and bioheat can deliver effective solutions but to achieve this, it needs a clear framework and further investments in R&D.

Investing now for better air quality

The prejudice against “burning wood” for heating because it is a large source of pollution is an outdated misconception. Emissions from biomass-based systems vary according to their age and type (pellet or wood log, stoves open fire, boilers) and have very little in common with the old-fashioned open fires used in generations past which emit far more.

Emissions can be further reduced by using fuel low in moisture and nitrogen content.

Bioheat manufacturers across Europe have already heavily invested in R&D to create cutting-edge solutions that combine energy efficiency, the efficient use of fuel, and reduce emissions. In some cases, modern heating systems are now producing nearly zero particulate emissions.

These technologies are able to achieve this through incorporating innovative features such as specialized airflow patterns and air-enrichment which in specially designed combustion chambers, can lead to more complete combustion and even remove the flame from the equation.

Maintaining opposition to modern bioenergy based on an erroneous view of the industry will have a detrimental effect on a thriving European industry, and even potentially risk slowing down the EU green transition.

Fostering Europe’s global industry leadership

Europe should be proud of its global leadership in biomass heating manufacturing. Across Europe, thousands of small and medium companies, often family-owned, have developed advanced technologies that are easy to roll out to modernise our heating system.

The industry offers a wide range of solutions of different sizes, that can accommodate the needs of any household. These SMEs are also pioneering in digitalization, ensuring optimal usability of the appliances, controlling fuel input, and emissions. These are all features contributing to affordable, effective and clean heating systems.

From Japan to North America, it is well known that European biomass heating companies have mastered this technology and are the “gold standard” for anyone that wants an option to decarbonize their heating. Even with new markets constantly emerging, European players continue to dominate

This global leadership offers an enormous advantage to Europe which can guarantee future green jobs in manufacturing, in installations, and more. In addition to being an engine of job growth, biomass heating also relies on locally sourced fuel.

This allows the EU to reduce energy dependency on third countries and avoid the risks of price spikes in the gas and electricity markets that we are currently experiencing across Europe.

How to meet market and technical readiness?

From the manufacturing perspective, there are two contradictory trends. On the one hand, the demand for modern biomass-based technologies is growing dramatically. There is an increasing awareness by end-users that this industry offers a concrete and affordable solution.

Furthermore, the market growth experienced in the past years has resulted in new jobs. These are all reassuring signals that our industry is providing a concrete alternative to fossil fuels heating.

However, on the other hand, if authorities fail to adequately promote the deployment of high-efficiency models, market players, installers, and end-users will be forced to revert to the antiquated and dirty fossil-fuel-based installations, which are not aligned with Europe’s environmental and climate objectives.

End-users need to be correctly informed about all available technologies especially those users whose households are off the grid and risk being left behind in the transition.

We cannot allow ourselves to take a short-term approach. Investments must support a long-term vision to justify the cost of installations of new and modern bioheat systems. Phasing-out fossil fuel investments is a priority, and those investments need to be redirected to support European households.

The European bioenergy industry is poised to contribute to the circular economy, combining environmental benefits by sustainably using by-products along with generating wealth and employment across Europe, but it cannot achieve these goals without support.

With Europe’s ageing heating system, we have an opportunity for, drastic structural changes and cost-effective solutions that are already available on the market. Given the enormous share of energy used in heating, the EU cannot achieve its climate goals without this reform.

In order to make it a success, consumers should be at the centre of the decision-making process which will help to safeguard access to reliable and affordable heating. The biomass-based heating manufacturing industry is ready to fulfil this purpose but needs a stable policy framework and further investment in R&D to flourish.

If we are serious about achieving decarbonization and better air quality then while we have green alternatives, we cannot allow the installation of new fossil fuel heating systems which could be in place for decades warming not only our homes but also our planet to a dangerous level.

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