How should Europe make sure of its energy security over the next couple decades?
The European Commission’s new package of measures on security concentrates on measures to strengthen reliance against gas supply interruptions. Step one is to diversify and better manage supplies of imported gas, so that any future interruptions of Russian gas can be coped with; step two is to increase Europe’s ability to import LNG.
But the Commission clearly understands the more fundamental need to reduce the need for imports, by increasing indigenous energy production particularly from renewables; and to moderate demand from buildings and industry. Both of these areas, addressed by the EC in its first ever heating and cooling strategy, involve increased use of decentralized energy.
The new strategy calls for renovation of existing buildings to be made easier, to increase energy performance and reduce demand. But it also mandate Europe to step up efforts to displace fossil-based heating technologies with renewable heat; and to ensure that all ‘waste’ heat produced by industry and power generation, and currently dissipated, are tapped for use.
Now, how quickly and to what extent this new EC strategy translates into action on the ground is anyone’s guess. Yet the Commission has made it abundantly clear that it sees decentralized energy as the key to a new: ‘smart, efficient and sustainable heating and cooling sector’. And an important one – heating and cooling accounts for 50% of the EU’s annual energy consumption.
Finding and making use of all available ‘waste’ (and often free) heat supplies is, of course, a no-brainer. Aside from this, the main technologies for low carbon heat for buildings are solar thermal, biomass boilers, district energy systems fuelled with cogeneration and an increasing proportion of renewable fuels and energy sources, and heat pumps. All should see an opportunity for growth.
However, a couple of serious major barriers to heat decarbonisation need to be faced. One is that, unlike the power generation sector, decisions on heating are made by millions of perhaps reluctant consumers unfamiliar with non-mainstream heating systems. The second is cost – for example a recent study by the UK government found that incorporating heat pumps into district heating schemes can deliver considerable carbon benefits, but lead almost inevitably to higher heating costs.