Alexandra Latham, Communications Officer at the European Geothermal Energy Council details how RHC technologies including Geothermal go hand in hand for a sustainable energy supply with stable prices
The need to ensure stable and affordable energy prices for consumers thereby elevating fuel poverty and enabling growth, and the need for this energy use to be sustainable, is obvious. But how can this be reconciled with increasing population growth and economic activity? And how can it fit in our current energy system?
The market, the legislation, and technological challenges make a silver bullet impossible, but there are solutions. In the heating and cooling, sector-which currently accounts for half of the energy use in Europe-implementing energy efficiency measures and switching fuels to renewables will go a long way to ensure a secure future.
The situation today is far from ideal. The EU, the world’s largest energy importer, spends more than €1bn every day on imported fuels. Most of these imports are used in the heat sector, which relies mainly on heavy polluters like oil, gas, and coal. Compare this with the readily available local sources of heating, cooling, and domestic hot water available to us and the knowledge that by 2020 the €21.8bn could be saved annually just by covering 25% of heat demands with renewables.
Geothermal heating technology is already widely used in countries such as Germany and Sweden but could be much more widely exploited. The technology is highly efficient; geothermal heat pumps are amongst the few to achieve the highest category A+++ in the new energy labelling system and Seasonal Performance Factor (calculated as the ratio of the heat delivered to the total electrical energy supplied over the year), is today well above 4. This means that for each kW of electricity consumed, geothermal heat pumps generate 4kW of thermal energy. And, with continued improvements, average values in the order of 5 can be achieved.
The figures may be shocking, but it is not difficult to understand why we persist with this model which leaves us vulnerable to price hikes and locked into a carbon-intensive future: Fossil fuels remain subsidised, prices and costs of energy, particularly heating and cooling, are not transparent, and structural problems with the energy system need to be tackled.
Figures on the subsidisation of fossil fuels are known; the recent EC study ‘Subsidies and costs of EU energy’ found that subsidies for natural gas amounted to €6.5bn, whilst support for geothermal was only €70m in 2012. Geothermal heating and cooling delivers affordable energy at stable prices and is available across Europe, yet we continue to give more support to an expensive energy source which leaves consumers vulnerable.
As heating and cooling have largely been neglected in public policy, information on the cost of heating and cooling is not readily available, and the available statistics are not always reliable or comparable. Further, externalities such as the impact on fossil fuels are often overlooked, and there are information gaps with consumers not able to understand the information available. Policy makers are also unsure of the most effective policy options and the decision making factors of consumers.
The FROnT project (Fair RHC Options and Trade), supported by the EC is currently working on these issues on multiple fronts. Studying the various factors which determine the costs of heat will allow for an assessment of the levelised cost of heating and cooling; by studying and measuring the success factors of support schemes. It will produce valuable information on how future schemes should be developed, by understanding the decision making factors of consumers, and it will improve the dialogue between stakeholders and the common understanding of the heating and cooling sector.
Today, consumers are already taking action in reducing the amount of energy they use; improving the efficiency of homes and businesses is essential in both new builds and particularly in the existing building stock, there are huge savings to be made. Energy efficiency alone is, however, not enough. An important point that is often overlooked: reducing energy consumption is not the same as reducing fuel dependency. After energy efficiency measures, a building still needs fuel, even if the demand is lower; whilst this energy comes from fossil fuels it is still victim to unstable supplies and prices.
Only by coupling energy efficiency with a fuel switch to renewables will we reap the full benefits of both. Both sectors face similar barriers, such as public awareness and acceptance, and upfront financing. These barriers are best removed together. For example, with an increased understanding of the costs of heat and options available to consumers, more people will take action. Economies can be made by integrating renewable heating and cooling systems whilst energy efficiency measures are implemented- building work does not need to happen twice. Our energy system is not only expensive today, but will get more expensive in the future, as the price of fossil fuels and electricity go up. It sends GDP outside our borders. Long term, sustainable solutions are available but a holistic approach, structural reforms and political courage are needed to make a systemic switch.
For more information on Geothermal Heat pumps visit www.heatunderyourfeet.eu and follow @heatunderurfeet.
For more information about the FROnT project visit www.front-rhc.eu.
European Geothermal Energy Council