New statistics from the European Commission show how flat the use of cogeneration has been across Europe in recent years. The proportion of total electricity generated in cogeneration plants in the EU 28 fell slightly, from 11.4 to 10.5 per cent between 2009 and 2014 (the latest year of available statistics), but this figure masks a more complex story. Total cogeneration capacity rose fairly steadily from 101 GW to 119 GW during the same five-year period, but total electricity produced by CHP fell from 368 TWh to 334 TWh.
It’s interesting – and revealing – to note that these changes took place in a period of falling overall energy use in Europe. The same EC statistics say that the EU 28 consumed 1630 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 2015; 7 per cent down from the 2010 total of 1760 Mtoe and 13 per cent down on the peak figure recorded in 2006. Indeed, two years ago, Europe’s overall energy consumption was down below 1990 levels – so much for the popular conception of relentless growth in energy use.
And given the substantial growth of large-scale renewables, particularly wind power, in recent years, the squeeze on traditional utilities – and on cogeneration – is understandable. That’s not to deny the opportunities that exist for cogeneration growth in Europe, but to note that falling demand makes a tough market even more difficult to thrive in.
The trend of falling energy and electricity use in Europe doesn’t get a lot of attention. We still hear supporters of various generation technologies beginning their arguments with warnings about how growing energy demand is going to be supplied. The truth is different – Europe is busy closing down old generation capacity, coal-fired plants in particular, and building a new renewables sector. The opportunity for cogeneration and other forms of decentralized generation is to be part of the change, even in a world of falling demand.
Pondering these matters while spending the weekend at a rural outdoor pursuits centre in the showery UK (still part of Europe), one of the main reasons for reduced demand on main power systems was right in front of me. The centre has its own roof and ground-mounted solar PV arrays that generate nearly half of its power needs on-site, as well as solar thermal technology to pre-heat water. The national power grid simply has less work to do.