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Low-carbon Heating & Cooling

SETIS Magazine, 
June 2016

Heat pumps are an established technology for heating and cooling as well as hot water production in many EU countries. In some countries, like Norway, Sweden, and Finland heat pumps are the dominant heating technology. In others, like Denmark, Switzerland, France or Austria, heat pumps are aspiring to move into that position. In a third group, with Germany being the prime example, heat pump technology has achieved a significant share in the new build market segment.

This flashlight on sales numbers reflects the characteristics of heat pumps. The technology is mature and ready for most application areas. Technological progress has increased the range of possible applications. In countries with sufficient time for market development and/or proper framework conditions, heat pumps have become a key heating and cooling technology.

Looking at the technology itself, a few trends are visible:

1. The large majority of units (>80%) are using air as their heat source.

2. Sanitary hot water heat pumps show the fastest growth. They help introduce renewable energy into traditional boiler installations.

3. Connectivity is becoming more and more important. Improved interfaces integrate heat pumps into home energy management systems and connect them in particular to PV systems.

4. The number of large heat pumps is increasing. In buildings with a dual use for heating and cooling heat pumps offer the highest efficiency. Bespoke heat pump solutions are the de-facto standard.

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In a context of strong global competition and ambitious EU energy and climate policies, Sustainable Industry Low Carbon (SILC) is a EU grant scheme that aims at identifying, developing and deploying technological innovation measures allowing to improve the competitiveness and reduce the carbon intensity of energy-intensive industries. SILC is being implemented in two phases, each with its specific objectives: SILC I (2011-2013) and SILC II (2014 onwards).

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.

Heating and cooling today account for half of the EU’s energy consumption, but a large part of this energy is wasted because 65% of the installed stock of heaters is old and inefficient. In addition, according to the recent European Commission Strategy for Heating and Cooling , both individual heating and district heating in Europe are largely based on fossil fuels.

A quick glance at the stark figures for heating and cooling in Europe is enough to make clear the need and the potential to improve our energy system by tackling this sector. Heating and cooling represents half of the final energy consumption in Europe whilst 70% of the thermal energy used in buildings comes from burning natural gas.

Heating and cooling for buildings and industry accounts for 50% of the European Union’s annual energy consumption. More specifically, heating and cooling accounts for 13% of oil consumption and 59% of total EU gas consumption (direct use only) – which equates to 68% of all gas imports1.  Although most of the energy currently consumed for these purposes is accounted for by heating, demand for cooling solutions is on the increase.

As a point of departure, let’s bear in mind that heating and cooling account for more than half of the energy used in the EU today. Moreover, as the recently published EU Heating and Cooling Strategy made clear, they will remain the dominant source of demand through 2050 and beyond.

A zero-energy building is a building with zero net energy consumption, meaning that the total amount of energy that it consumes throughout the year is supplied from onsite renewable sources.

Biomass in the form of log wood has traditionally been used for heating purposes since the discovery of fire and even now it is a very important energy source. In the year 2012, almost 54% of total renewable energy in the EU-28 came from biomass, while in the heating and cooling sector the share was 86%.

As the energy transition focuses on holistic energy efficiency policies at the local level, more attention is paid to efficient district and heating and cooling (DHC) networks. Because of their various advantages, they appear in many respects as a potential backbone for coherent local strategies.

As an extremely convenient heating source, based on a simple concept enhanced by cutting edge technology, solar thermal energy has the potential to be a major source of heating and cooling in Europe. Technological advancements have seen solar thermal become not only a better option for more traditional applications, such as domestic hot water production, but also a promising solution for new and more advanced applications such as industrial process heat.

The European Union is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020 and by at least 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. Moreover, the Renewable energy directive sets a binding target of 20% final energy consumption from renewable sources by 2020.

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