Keeping Europe’s ambition alive on renewable heat

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

The heating market is 50% of the energy market, and it is currently addicted to fossil fuels. [Sali Sasaki/Flickr]

This article is part of our special report Heating and cooling.

If Europe wants to walk the talk on climate change, it needs to get out of fossil fuels by 2050. And the real ambition must be to drive change towards renewable heat, which is still addicted to fossil fuels, writes Nigel Cotton.

Nigel Cotton is director for building construction and technology at the European Copper Institute (ECI).

Born amidst the unpredictability of the Brexit vote and the clarification of Trump’s climate change intentions, one could see why the European Commission’s initial proposal for a Clean Energy for All Europeans package was just ambitious enough to support the Paris Agreement and just low enough to appease member states.

In the end, we will do neither!

With the UK voting to leave the EU and Trump pulling the US out from the Paris Agreement, pandering to the extremes is no longer necessary. Indeed, times have changed, new alliances are forming and the need for more ambition prevails more than ever. If Trump wishes to give up the US leadership on Climate Change, then Europe should grasp the role with open hands and deliver on its promise to be world number one in renewable energies.

If Europe wants to walk the talk, then we need to be out of fossil fuel by 2050 to meet our CO2 objectives and encourage investment in renewables, not fossil-based electricity and gas.

The real ambition must be to drive change towards renewable heat. The heating market is 50% of the energy market, and it is currently addicted to fossil fuels. To break this addiction, we must stop subsidising carbon emissions via fossil fuels. We must make sure general public and business know that renewable heating is available. We must have clear ambitious policy goals to reduce policy risk, ease financing. And make renewables in heating and cooling mainstream.

EU will fail Paris climate challenge unless it tackles heating and cooling

The European Union’s fight against global warming is doomed to fail unless decisive action is taken to change the way we heat and cool our buildings.

Through encouraging investments in Renewable Energy Sources in Heating and Cooling (RES-HC), the Clean Energy for All Europeans package presents a real opportunity to show Europe’s citizens how the European Union helps improve their lives, homes, work, schools, hospitals and environment.

By actively supporting RES-HC across Europe, EU policy-makers can stimulate the SME economy, finance jobs and reduce fossil fuel use through efficient use of heat and renewable technologies. Hence, billions of euros, which would otherwise have exited the EU to fund fossil fuel producer countries, would instead circulate in the EU creating economic growth.

Consumers will play a major role in this process, by decarbonising their consumption and future proofing their businesses and homes. Replacing a broken boiler is often a stressful time. It’s urgent; it needs to be available locally, installed quickly and not be too expensive. For that to happen, consumers need options, be it through a utility or self-consumption to find the right choice that meets their needs. To accomplish this means raising awareness of renewables at a local level and, most importantly, stop locking consumers into fossil fuels.

The EU must begin replacing Europe’s 100 million inefficient boilers by providing replacement schemes which encourages “planned replacement” with more efficient and renewable heating systems by labelling existing equipment under the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive.

An ambitious revision of the Renewable Energy Directive (RES Directive), Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), Energy Performance in Buildings Directive (EPBD) and new governance rules is key to the future success of world class European manufacturers committed to biomass, solar thermal, geothermal, district heating and heat pump technologies.

The European Commission opened some opportunities for RES-HC. Now the European Parliament, for the sake of the climate, the economy and its citizens, must raise the bar in favour of RES-HC. If we seriously want to decarbonise buildings, efficient renewable heat must be clearly eligible under the energy efficiency obligation scheme in the Energy Efficiency Directive.

The heat obligation in the RES Directive must be mandatory to allow for accelerated deployment, a stronger industry, with more innovation and reduced CO2 in line with our decarbonisation objectives. For this ambition, there must be an annual increase in the share of renewables in heating and cooling of two percentage points per year.

We are designing today the energy system of the future, a system where electricity, heating and cooling and transport interact in synergy, where decentralised generation complements centralised supply, where a broad variety of energy sources and technologies compete to bring better offers to the market.

In such a future, electricity will have a role in the future heating and cooling mix, but we must keep in mind that electrification is not the same as decarbonisation. For decarbonisation of the heating sector, a significant investment in decarbonised electricity would be needed to offset the additional demand. And remember there is more renewable heat consumed today than renewable electricity.

Where we can decarbonise using electricity, we need to do it in an efficient way. That means using renewables-based electricity including biomass and geothermal, highly efficient heat pumps and targeting sectors with temperatures above 500°C which are not easily covered yet by RES-HC.

RES-HC solutions can work from houses to industrial process heat, from district heating to hospitals and schools; to neighbourhood schemes.

Identifying the local heat resources and heat use will be key, so local authorities know what they have. The stability of the regulatory framework for support to renewable investment planning at the local level is crucial. The proposal from the European Parliament rapporteur on RED greatly reduces the risk of policy shifts at the national level.

All these solutions could mitigate climate change and improve citizens’ lives – starting today. Renewable technologies exist and are ready to deliver, we just need more ambition and a stronger political vision to support investments, and trust in Europe’s heating and cooling sector.

Think tank: Lack of EU heating and cooling laws a ‘real failure’

The lack of hard EU legislation for the decarbonisation of Europe’s heating and cooling systems is a failure that puts the bloc’s climate goals at risk, Maarten De Groote, the head of research at the Buildings Performance Institute Europe, has warned.