The European Commission has focused on the electricity and gas aspects of the winter energy crisis. Now it is vital to focus on the critical yet often overlooked issue of heating. Heating is the largest source of European and global energy consumption yet it barely features in political discourse. However, heating buildings, services, industry, horticulture and aquaculture need solutions today in order to address the combined energy, climate, food security and economic crises.
In July 2022, the European Commission’s ”Save Gas for a Safe Winter” Plan proposed a voluntary gas demand reduction target of 15% from 1 August 2022 to 31 March 2023. Member States are required to update their existing national emergency plans with their planned demand-reduction measures to meet this target by the end of this September. Replacing gas with geothermal for heating will be central to the success of these plans. Whilst energy efficiency, and especially insulation, are needed for all buildings to reduce demand, alone they do not address the root of the problem. Therefore, energy efficiency must be combined with individual, and where appropriate, community or district geothermal solutions.
The narrative also has to shift. Assuming heating needs to be “electrified” adds to the problem. It is essential to replace all inefficient electric heaters with efficient geothermal heat pumps, which reduce electricity consumption by a factor of 4, and also renewable district heating systems. This is the best way to reduce the pressure on electricity grids and the gas markets. The IEA (December 2019) and ADEME (July 2022) have already outlined the economic benefits to residential consumers of geothermal heating compared to gas and other renewables. Nearly half a million inhabitants in Munich and Paris alone are heated with geothermal district heating systems. There are over 2 million European buildings of all types benefiting from geothermal heat pumps. Whilst this is a marked improvement over a decade ago, it is still insufficient to meet the needs of the current crisis.
The same is true in other sectors. Soon 10% of the greenhouses in the Netherlands will be heated by geothermal. Geothermal must now be deployed across all greenhouses to ensure security of food supplies. We cannot close swimming pools in France arguing gas prices are too high, when an alternative exists: in less than a month a geothermal heating and cooling system can be installed in each swimming pool in Europe. Safeguarding public spaces such as swimming pools, libraries, university sites and campuses, are essential to maintaining a healthy environment and quality of life.
Therefore, EGEC recommends the following is enacted across Europe:
– Remove harmful direct and indirect subsidies as well as institutional barriers by 2023 which lock-in incumbent gas fossil fuels consuming applications which prevent renewable energy solutions.
– Support EU or regional facilities to de-risk investments, especially upfront, pre-operational costs. For geothermal and other renewable energy solutions which require higher upfront CAPEX investments is required as a Project of Common Interest in the Connecting Europe Facility.
-Specific measures to tackle the unique needs of decarbonised low, medium and high temperature industrial heat demands in the EU Industrial Strategy.
-A series of Renovation Waves, each designed to tackle a unique sector of buildings from private to public, social housing and large-scale heat networks. Central to these Renovation Waves is the need to go beyond insulation and the building envelope towards replacing fossil heating systems with renewable energy systems, high-efficiency heat pumps and district heating systems which make a positive and lasting improvement to people’s lives and the overall health of communities.
We need an action now to deploy massively renewable heating and cooling source in the EU. The answer from EU institutions that it is not their competence will not be enough for heating our buildings and our industry in winter. In the middle of a gas price crisis, the European Commission cannot continue to protect gas markets at the expense of renewable heat and energy efficiency. We need more competition and fair competition between gas and renewables to supply affordable heat to all consumers.
See you after this winter to check the progress of Europe makes.
EGEC Secretary General