Gerhard Stryi-Hipp European Technology Platform on Renewable Heating and Cooling President
Energy security and decarbonisation are the main energy goals of the European Union.
The Low-carbon Economy Roadmap aims for a reduction in CO2 emissions of 80% by 2050 and the Energy Security Strategy calls for a significant cutback in fossil fuel and uranium imports. These ambitious goals can only be achieved if the heating and cooling (H&C) sector is almost fully decarbonised, since it is the largest energy sector in Europe representing 50% of final energy demand.
Today only 18% of H&C demand is supplied by renewable energy sources (RES), while 75% is supplied by fossil fuels and 7% by nuclear power. In comparison, the RES share in electricity has already reached 27%, with a much stronger growth dynamic. Therefore a special effort is needed to stimulate the transformation of the H&C sector. The European Commission has recognised the need for stronger activities in the H&C sector and published its Strategy on Heating and Cooling in February 2016.
There are good reasons why the H&C sector has resisted decarbonisation up to now. At today’s prices, heat generated from fossil fuels often costs less than heat generated by Renewable Heating and Cooling (RHC) technologies and RHC technologies often appear to be more complex than existing solutions in terms of design, installation and operation. In addition, the European RHC sector is very heterogeneous and does not have a unified infrastructure like the electrical grid. This situation leads to localised markets in the heating and cooling sector, which require decentralised, adapted support policies based on a good understanding of the H&C markets and their challenges.
In general, the transformation path for the H&C sector is clear. Efficiency must be significantly increased and a large share of the remaining H&C demand should be generated by RES, considering the ongoing debates in many Member States on the role of nuclear and carbon capture and storage in the future energy system. However, there are several uncertainties related to designing the future H&C system. Without a doubt, the level of energy efficiency, the share of district heating and the share of H&C generated by electricity from RES must be increased, but what is the optimal level at a given place?
The answers to these questions depend on local H&C market conditions and on the framework conditions, e.g. if cheap electricity from RES is definitely available during the heating season. This is the main reason why H&C systems should be optimised at city level as part of a smart city energy concept.
The role of RHC technological development should not be underestimated in implementing this transformation. Solar thermal and geothermal energy as well as biomass heating, heat pumps and cross cutting technologies like district heating, storage, cooling and hybrid systems have huge potential for technological development, which was neglected in recent decades. An analysis of the R&D projects funded by Horizon 2020 in 2014 and 2015 showed that, in full competition with RES electricity technologies, RHC technologies are rarely successful. Therefore, in order to unlock RHC potential and create a level playing field, a dedicated budget line for R&D on RHC technologies is necessary.
The need for action in the H&C sector is clearly recognised, and the technological scope of tasks to be implemented has been identified in the strategic research agendas and research roadmaps of the European Technology and Innovation Platform on Renewable Heating and Cooling (RHC-ETIP). Now is the time for policy-makers to focus on this sector and to take serious action.