Hans ten Berge
Born in Eindhoven in 1951, Hans ten Berge holds a Degree in Chemistry from the Rijksuniversiteit in Utrecht and also graduated from the University of Delft in business administration. Following posts in a number of international enterprises, including Exxon Chemie and Kemira Agro, he joined ENECO Energie in November 1998 as Managing Director of Energiehandelsbedrijf, subsequently serving as a member of the ENECO Energie Board of Management from November 1999 until January 2006. He served for several years as Chairman of the EURELECTRIC Markets Committee, before taking on the full-time post of Secretary-General in 2007.
With discussions well underway in the EU on establishing an Energy Union and on its climate and energy framework, European policymakers are taking important steps in setting European energy policy on track towards a nearly carbon neutral economy in 2050. Heating and cooling in buildings and industry constitutes 50% of the EU’s energy consumption. Together with the 32% contributed by the transport sector, these represent the largest shares of energy demand across Europe. Due to its decentralised nature and its dependence on regional climate and infrastructure, decarbonising the heating and cooling sector is a major challenge. Currently, 85% of heating in Europe is produced from fossil fuels. This means that decarbonising heating and cooling is key to achieving Europe’s climate goals and decarbonising our society as a whole.
The electricity industry is ready to take a leading role in achieving these objectives. Electricity today is increasingly generated from renewable sources. As a result, the carbon intensity of electricity as an energy carrier is falling – and we expect it to decrease even further as the sector steps up its use of low-carbon power generation sources. The sector is actually committed to achieving carbon neutral power supply by 20501. In fact, the Energy Roadmap 2050 recognises that “electricity will have to play a much greater role than now […] and will have to contribute to the decarbonisation of transport and heating/cooling”.
Electrification will mean replacing fossil fuels with low-carbon electricity in meeting our daily energy needs for heating, cooling and transport. As these sectors are currently based in great part on fossil fuel technologies (such as gas or oil for heating and combustion engines for vehicles) electric solutions will enable their decarbonisation. This fuel switch can also help increase energy efficiency, reduce primary energy needs and allow an increase in renewable energy penetration. The benefits are therefore multiple: greenhouse gas mitigation, energy security, customer empowerment, potential reduction in primary energy usage, as well as various other environmental and health benefits.
A variety of clean and energy-efficient electric solutions can play a part in this process. The technologies to enable electrification already exist on the market or are getting ready for mass deployment. New technologies, such as smart heat storage systems, enable electric heating/cooling to act as decentralised storage. These open up more options in making our energy systems cleaner, more efficient and more flexible.
One of the most important technologies to unlock the benefits of electrification is heat pump technology. These use an electric compressor that “pumps” heat from one location to another. By pumping heat from outdoor air, soil or groundwater into a building, such as an apartment block, each kW of electricity consumed by a heat pump, generates about 4kW of thermal energy, depending on the circumstances - this corresponds to 300% efficiency2.
Today, equipping a new single family home with a heat pump instead of an oil burner can save up to 40% in annual primary energy consumption. The potential contribution to the EU’s energy strategy is impressive: more than 70 million heat pumps could be installed by 2020, which would lead to a reduction in final energy consumption of more than 900 TWh3, thereby contributing almost 20% to the EU’s energy efficiency target for 2020.
Electrifying heating, cooling and transport with power from decarbonised sources reveals a wide range of benefits which are critical in the transition to a sustainable economy in Europe. One of the key benefits of electrification is that when combined with low-carbon energy technologies, it helps meet the world’s energy needs with less carbon. Using electricity for local heating in buildings and cities would not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it would also cap the emissions of the heating sector by de facto bringing them under the EU Emissions Trading System.
Currently, there is widespread perception that improving energy efficiency implies reducing electricity consumption. However, recent technological developments have completely reshaped the comparative efficiency of electricity use versus the use of other energy vectors such as gasoline, natural gas or oil. The use of more electricity can therefore actually result in increased energy efficiency, thanks to technologies like efficient heat pumps, modern water boilers with thermal storage, smart heating solutions which take power from the grid when it is sustainable and/or cheap.
Not burning fossil fuels in cars and houses has further advantages. In urban areas in particular, electrification can have significant environmental and health benefits. Electricity in transport and heating can reduce air pollution in our cities, especially when it comes to local pollutants such as particulates, NOx, SOx, VOCs and ozone. The use of electric buses, trains and light trains can drastically improve air quality, traffic congestion and noise pollution. Furthermore, electricity can also replace fossil fuels in small and medium enterprises. This will make it possible to concentrate the energy-related emissions to those remaining electricity producing plants with more efficient pollution abatement systems that will primarily be used as back-up for carbon-neutral power generation. In this way, switching from direct use of fossil fuels to electricity could enable energy users to meet more of their energy needs through zero-emission energy.
Switching to electricity in sectors which currently do not use it will of course change the demand profile, and will require intelligent solutions in order get the maximum out of our infrastructure and changing generation mix. Increasing numbers of electric vehicles can disturb the power system in a major way, adding additional peaks to the variable renewable peaks already observed. One solution to this challenge is smart charging - charging EVs in a way that avoids excessive and costly spikes in power demand and also, in the years to come, using car batteries as storage to deliver valuable services to the electricity system, as well as maximising local integration of renewable energy sources (RES). By optimising grid utilisation (i.e. by making sure the demand does not exceed grid capacity), smart charging will help to avoid grid reinforcements costs.
Since power can be produced from many different sources, electrification allows greater flexibility and, in return, this will further strengthen the security of supply. We are also seeing that electrifying final energy consumption could increase energy storage opportunities. The use of electric vehicle batteries or electric appliances (e.g. water heaters) as flexible demand and decentralised energy storage will allow higher renewable penetration and increase the reliability of electricity supply. Linking the systems for heating and transport with the electricity system will unlock important benefits on both sides. Finally, all electrification benefits have direct positive impacts on the consumer. The use of electric vehicle batteries or electric appliances means that customers will no longer rely on fossil fuels and their volatile prices. Moreover, the development of demand response options makes electric solutions highly valuable for consumers: electrification empowers the final consumers by giving them the opportunity to increasingly influence their energy bills and be in control of their consumption.
Decarbonising Europe’s power production and, at the same time, increasingly electrifying our energy use is key on the path towards creating a carbon-neutral and energy efficient economy in the EU as it removes the need to burn fossil fuels in our buildings and in our means of transportation. This also helps decrease the amount of oil and gas we need to import to the EU for our energy needs, thereby increasing security of supply. With the technologies to trigger this already on the market, the challenge we now face is to create a policy landscape which unlocks the potential of electrification and ensures the uptake of the technologies that enable it.