Carsten Østergård Pedersen, Rune Kaagaard Sørensen and Asbjørn Ebbesen discuss the necessity of district heating to speed up the phasing out of Russian fossil fuels
Securing a Europe that is no longer powered by Russian fossil fuels demands that the current Fit-For-55 package raises its ambitions and embraces better district heating.
Therefore, the Commissions has presented its REPower EU strategy, which directly addresses how they think it should be done. However, it is worrying that the new strategy does not raise the ambitions on district heating, as it will play a crucial role for the speed, energy production capacity and cost-effectiveness of phasing out Russian fossil fuels in heating.
Following Russian aggression in Ukraine, the EU no longer want to be dependent on energy from Russia. The EU Commission new energy strategy, REPower EU, therefore, sets out how the Union can become independent of this energy import, through energy efficiency, renewable energy, and diversifying natural gas import.
The plan is to get the strategy implemented into concrete legislation in the Fit-For-55 package, where the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), and more are under revision.
However, phasing out Russian fossil fuels will be a huge task within the European heating sector. 75% of residential heating within Europe comes from fossil fuels(1), most of which is imported natural gas from Russia used in boilers.
The REPower EU strategy, therefore, aims at doubling the replacement rate of boilers to heat pumps and increasing energy efficiency targets, all of which are warmly welcomed. But it is worrying that higher ambitions regarding district heating are ignored, as it can increase the speed and cost-effectiveness of phasing out Russian fossil fuels in the heating sector.
Three reasons why district ambitions must be raised
The need for speed
Short term crisis actions are necessary since Russia is using natural gas supply to Europe as a tool in their macro-political agenda. Gas supply to European countries is at danger, if energy companies are not willing to pay in Rubles, whereby gas supplies could be in short fall in coming winter seasons. Although new district heating grids take longer times to implement, existing grids should be utilized as much as possible.
Therefore, the EU should now promote that we quickly connect current gas-supplied areas to closely located existing district heating grids. This can increase the replacement rate of boilers and ease bottle necks on other heating technologies. Moreover, existing grids should be retrofitted for higher energy efficiency levels, for lowering unnecessary heat production trough lower heat losses.
More connections for the same amount of energy Secondly, district heating can meet a larger number of connections without increasing the energy use. Retrofitting current district heating grids to demand driven temperature zones can, by our own calculations, free up heating capacity for more than 800.000 European homes as 20% in heat loss can be saved in many parts of the grids.
Moreover, district heating can be powered by a currently massive unused green energy potential in geothermal energy and surplus heat from datacenters, industry, and supermarkets where surplus heat alone can deliver 25% of energy for district heating(2). Neglecting district heating in a strategy for being free of Russian fossil fuels, which are so dominant in heating, therefore, is unwise. The EU should tap into these huge energy savings in a 2-5 year time horizon, by pushing for retrofitting and expansions of new district heating grids to low-temperature zones and thereby utilizing surplus heat and geothermal energy.
Crisis thinking must not disrupt rational thinking Lastly, district heating also plays an important role in the long term, due to its ability to secure cheap heating in densely populated areas. The leading energy research team at Aalborg University has outlined in HeatRoadMap Europe that district heating could cost-effectively deliver up to 50% of Europe’s heating demand(3) due to the enhanced integration of green energy sources such as surplus heat and geothermal energy, which otherwise will remain unused.
Therefore, neglecting heat planning can become costly for society, since an unplanned rollout of individual heat pumps can prevent the roll-our of district heating and thereby prevent the utilisation of surplus heat and geothermal energy in certain areas, as it then will not be economic feasible to implement district heating due to low connection rates.
How to implement new ambitions into Fit-For-55
The positive implications for higher ambitions on district heating, therefore, is crystal clear. It must be a central part in freeing Europe’s heating sector from Russian fossil fuel, and the Commission together with the Parliament should, therefore, push for high ambitions on district heating in the Fit-For-55 package. We propose the follow- ing steps for raising the district heating ambitions thoughtful:
– The EED should: Secure mandatory heating plans in cities with over 20,000 inhabitants and surrounding villages, which must include the assessments of low-temperature zones, geothermal energy, and surplus heat recovery.
– The EPBD should: Implement that National Renovation Buildings Plans is planned in zonal approaches in line with heat planning, so renovation of the building stock and roll-out of energy efficient heating goes hand in hand. This is necessary as both heat pumps and energy efficient district heating runs more efficient on lower temperatures compared to boilers.
– The EED should: Implement binding targets for the Member States for the usage of surplus heat (50% of the waste heat should be utilized in 2025 and 75% in 2030).
– The EED should: Secure requirements for data centers (and other industries with a lot of surplus heat) to be connected to the heating grid: Data centers of sufficient size (with a total rated energy input exceeding 1MW) should consider being connected to the heating grid to maximize the use of waste heat.
Please note: This is a commercial profile
© 2019. This work is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND.
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