The European Commission has recently published its proposals for the Heating and Cooling sector, signaling the next stage in improving the energy efficiency and sustainability levels around Europe. While the release has been low-key, partly overshadowed by other crises in the continent, its impact will be far reaching – beneficial both for the environment and the wallets of consumers.
The Commission’s strategy focuses on two of its priorities in relation to environment and sustainability – reduce and re-use. Based on our current consumption, half of the energy produced in EU is spent on satisfying our heating and cooling needs. Whether to heat our homes in the winter or keep our products fresh for longer, energy must keep flowing. However, we are wasting considerable amounts of energy through using inefficient and outdated equipment or by not considering to tap into excess heat sources, such as from industrial processes.
The purpose of the new strategy is to propose solutions to the existing inefficiencies and in doing so reduce the use of fossil fuels and our dependence on their imports. This is also a way to reduce consumption by individual companies and people, such as for heating needs, and cut their energy bills. Given that almost half the heating and cooling generated is used by the residential sector, individual consumers stand to gain a lot.
Residents around Europe are feeling the effect of such waste both with their livelihoods and with their pockets. Consider that nearly 11% of people in EU cannot afford to heat their homes properly. Similarly, many industrial processes, especially those using combustion in the process of creating their products are simply radiating heat that will simply dissipate and serve no purpose.
The European Commission’s paper establishes the existing causes of such wasteful behavior. On one hand, and this is particularly applicable to the housing sector, our homes and equipment we use are old. It is not a rare sight to see twenty year old boilers still being used, which were made during a time when energy efficiency requirements were virtually non-existent. In a similar fashion, many homes are poorly insulated and leak heat at a tremendous rate. On an industrial level, many processes require high-temperatures to function, while at the same time radiate a lot of heat and until recently there was no incentive to tap into all the heat produced in order to harness it.
The released papers also aim to create the big picture for the heating and cooling sector. Until now there was no overarching EU-level picture of the sector and its overall impact. Although the current overview sometimes relies on estimates, it still paints a pretty clear picture. Detailed explanations of where the energy goes, explanation of available technologies and the impact of the inefficiencies on industries as well as consumers are presented.
The papers did not miss a chance to emphasise that efforts must be made to supply heating and cooling using renewable energy sources. This will reduce our heavy reliance on fossil fuel imports and create markets for local energy sources: bioenergy, geothermal energy, solar-based heating and even energy generated from municipal waste (waste-to-energy technology). Lastly, it brings together the many the financial programs that already are or will be available in the future to fund our transition towards higher energy efficiency rates.
However, despite the tremendous effort to produce the data and suggestions contained in the papers, a lot of work must still be done. While the data contained in the documents will help produce better policy decisions, it also underlines the variety of solutions available to us. No single solution to improve the heating and cooling sector will suffice. Baltic states, for example, have well developed local district heating networks while the UK predominantly uses home-based boilers for both heating and hot water needs. Not all of them are equal in efficiency and countries will face varying costs to achieve progress. Progress is likely to be fragmented, with varying success rates.
Another issue is the potential source of heat. The Commission proposes many options on how we could produce the necessary heat. These range from using micro-combined heat and power generators, to producing the energy for heating in waste-to-energy plants. The latter in particular will cause an uproar among those that are green-minded.
The current iteration of the document is certainly ambitious and in theory will have a great impact. Timely implementation will have a positive impact on our carbon footprint, costs and well-being of people. It will certainly cut the costs in industries by monetising heat that would otherwise be wasted. Consumers too should see the burden on their wages drop as less is needed to heat homes and new sources of heating become available, creating a competition in the market. Yet few issues still linger, and it is important to have more than simply recommendations in the nearest future.