According to the Commission, the heating and cooling sector accounts for half of the EU’s annual energy consumption. A strategy to decarbonize heating and cooling by 2050 would save around €40 billion in gas imports and €4.9 billion in oil imports per year, it said.
In its policy statement, the Commission noted bluntly that the problem is that ‘European buildings are old’. According to their research, almost half of EU buildings feature boilers installed before 1992, with an efficiency rating below 60% – while 22% of installed gas boilers, 34% of direct electric heaters, 47% of oil boilers and 58% of coal boilers are beyond their recommended service life.
While renovation of existing buildings could lower energy consumption, the research found that the current refurbishment rate is below 1%. In addition, it found that the amount of wasted heat from industrial processes could cover the EU’s entire building sector heating needs.
A five-pronged plan
In the new strategy, the Commission aims to address five key areas: making it easier to renovate buildings; integrating electricity systems with heating and cooling systems; increasing the share of renewables used in heating and cooling; recovering wasted energy from industry; and getting consumers and industry involved in the process.
Under the ‘easier renovation’ rubric, the strategy aims to promote energy efficiency and strengthen the reliability of energy performance certificates. To address the issue of wasted energy, it proposes district heating networks fuelled by industrial waste and cogeneration plants; cooling through cogeneration and absorption chillers; and analysis of waste heat potential at national and local levels.
In practical terms, the Commission said many of these proposals are ‘non-legislative’, meaning they will be up to Member States to implement. On the legislative side, it noted that the Europe-wide Energy Efficiency Directive, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, the Smart Financing for Smart Buildings Initiative, the new Electricity Market Design and the proposal for a Renewable Energy Framework will all be reviewed this year.
The industry responds
District energy and CHP trade group Euroheat & Power issued a very positive response, noting that heating and cooling are ‘on the EU energy agenda at last’. Managing director Paul Voss said: ‘This is an important moment for the many people and organizations who have argued for the need to put heating and cooling at the centre of the EU’s energy policy where it belongs. Now that at least the outline of a strategy is in place, we can turn to the exciting challenge of translating its principle into practice through ambitious and well-crafted regulatory measures. The District Energy sector looks forward to helping establish the sustainable heating and cooling model that Europe and its citizens require.’
And a coalition of trade groups including the European Biomass Association (AEBIOM), the European Solar Thermal Industry Federation (ESTIF), the European Biogas Association (EBA) and the European Heat Pump Association (EHPA) issued a joint statement welcoming the move. The groups focused on the upcoming legislative reviews, recommending ‘a new governance system enabling local authorities to participate as equal partners in the decision-making process’; equality for renewables and energy efficiency in financing initiatives; the allocation of structural funds to cities to enable mapping and use of their heat potential; and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies.