EU energy strategies ‘overlook heat losses’

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EU energy strategies are currently overlooking significant energy savings that could be achieved with an integrated approach that allows the use of waste heat, according to Fiona Riddoch, managing director of Cogen Europe, and Sabine Froning, managing director of Euroheat&Power. They spoke to EURACTIV ahead of their joint annual conference today (2 June).

The heads of organisations representing Europe's combined heat and power (CHP) and district heating industries offered their perspective on energy systems that seeks to optimise total energy supply.

Integrating heat and electricity systems would allow for heat produced as a by-product of electricity generation to be recycled into a more efficient energy system, they argue.

"Our idea is that there should be no direct use of fossil fuels for heating purposes because there is much more waste heat available in the energy system than we actually need," said Froning.

As the European Commission is starting to formulate its low-carbon energy strategy for 2050, the experts pointed out that heat losses are bound to increase with low-carbon electricity generation, as those technologies are "relatively inefficient".  

"If we consider that we have already more than 50% losses in the energy system as a whole, it would only increase if we do not take care of the heat at the same time," said Froning, naming electricity production from biomass and technologies using carbon capture and storage (CCS) as major culprits on future inefficiencies.

But the directors expressed concern, however, that EU debates have so far ignored the role of heat, putting a heavy stress on electricity production.

"Most of the […] new scenarios that have come out in the past six months focus very much on individual supply sources in meeting demand rather than looking at the demand side and how to provide that in the most efficient way without the losses that come from the supply-side demand approach. The losses are very often thermal losses, the heat, at different points of the system," said Riddoch.

They urged the European Commission to ensure that cogeneration and district heating feature strongly in new energy action plans scheduled to be presented early next year.

"We are looking for stronger measures to implement the national potential that member states have identified for cogeneration," said Riddoch, recalling that 122 GW of additional cogeneration could come online by 2020.

Froning added that investment in heat networks, infrastructure and cooling needs to be addressed as the whole area has been left out in EU legislation. But she warned that the Commission's proposal for an energy infrastructure package, expected later this year, is likely to bring little relief to disorganised and underfunded local heat networks.

"I think the struggle there is really that the Commission has been dealing much more with cross-border issues. Everything has been driven by the liberalisation of markets so it's big technologies, big players, cross-border trade, the international dimension," she said.

To read the joint interview in full, please click here

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