MEP advocates greater role for cogeneration in ‘energy showdown’

Speaking at a 9 May stakeholder conference on cogeneration, Green MEP Claude Turmes called on the EU to make co-generation a cornerstone of its future energy policy and efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. 

  • A secret weapon against global warming?

Little is known about cogeneration by the general public, and the issue has received scant attention in official discussions on climate change. This is surprising, since cogeneration offers efficiency levels of 90% for combined heat and electricity generation, and the practice already accounted for 11% of electricity production in the EU in 1998. If this share rose to 18%, according to the Commission, “energy savings could represent around 3 to 4% of total gross consumption in the EU”. 

  • Image problems

The growth and visibility of the cogeneration market has been plagued by poor image issues. Since the technology has been on the market for decades, a common perception is that cogeneration is archaic, particularly when compared to newer technologies such as solar panels. In addition, the use of fossil fuels in cogenerators is seen as unattractive, and knowledge about efficiency and the potential uses of biomass is not widespread. 

  • Cost and financing problems

Because of its relatively small market share, electricity produced by cogeneration remains more costly than electricity produced by nuclear power plants. Major banks and lending institutions, furthermore, have been reluctant to finance investments since most CHP facilities are quite small.

  • Access to grids blocked

A number of CHP facilities have encountered inhibitive fees and administrative hurdles in their efforts to access major power grids. The Commission reports that some CHP operators actually feel intimidated by large network operators, and have not filed complaints.

MEP Claude Turmes gave an enthusiastic speech in support of cogeneration during the stakeholder conference, organised by the European Association for the Promotion of Cogeneration (COGEN). Turmes spoke out against large-scale investments in clean-coal technologies, for example, advocating instead for greater inclusion of existing cogeneration technologies as part of a set of climate change mitigation strategies: better planning and organisation of cities, greater use of public transport and more efficient buildings.  

Mr Turmes also lashed out against large electricity network operators, such as EON and RWE, for example, urging the cogeneration lobby to join forces with the renewable energy lobby against this "common enemy". 

Eurelectric, the Union of the Electricity Industry, "supports the goal of extending the use of CHP as a cost-effective measure to increase energy efficiency", but believes that the development of CHP installations should be left to "market forces" whereby the priority is to ensure a "level playing field." Eurelectric also warns that, if constructed improperly, "a CHP plant may consume more energy to produce the same amount of electricity and heat than a well-designed and installed electricity plant and separate heat boiler – thus running counter to the aims of emissions reduction and security of energy supply". 

The WWF supports cogeneration as long as the fuels used to power CHP facilities are clean.

According to Greenpeace, "CHP is an essential element in our future energy strategy. The current situation, where most power plants just throw away most of the heat they use, is a disgraceful waste of fuel and money and makes catastrophic climate change all the more likely. Alongside renewables and efficiency generally, CHP must rapidly become a key priority throughout the Union." 

A newly released United Nations report argues in favour of cogeneration in connection with biofuels (EURACTIV LinksDossier): "Current research concludes that using biomass for combined heat and power (CHP), rather than for transport fuels or other uses, is the best option for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade."

Also known as "combined heat and power" (CHP), cogeneration is the process of producing heat and electricity at the same time. Usually fuelled by natural gas, renewable energies or waste, cogeneration installations can vary in size from small units in residential buildings to large facilities in so-called district-heating systems that provide heat and electricity for entire neighborhoods.

Because of the simultaneous production of heat and electricity, cogeneration is generally considered to be more efficient and ecological than traditional electricity- producing facilities, such as nuclear or coal power plants, which simply expel heat into the atmosphere as a byproduct of electricity production. 

In February 2004, the EU adopted the CHP Directive to promote cogeneration in the EU by addressing several problems, including inadequate control of energy monopolies, inadequate support from local and regional authorities, incomplete market liberalisation, regulatory obstacles and the lack of European standards for network connection.

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