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Researchers change the direction of EU heating strategy

Researchers change the direction of EU heating strategy

Over the last five years, the European Union has radically changed its views on heating, partly thanks to a series of studies led by a group of researchers at Aalborg University, Denmark. This is evident from a new EU Strategy on Heating and Cooling launched today.

Last modified: 16.02.2016

Five years ago, the EU’s focus was firmly set on reducing the heat demand and electrifying the heat supply. District heating was on the periphery of EU energy policy at that time. In fact, an official communication from the EU Commission in 2011 said that district heating was expected to decline in the future (Energy Roadmap 2050, European Commission, 2011 Available from ec.europa.eu).

Coordinator David Connolly, Aalborg University.Since then, the Commission has warmed considerably to district heating. In the new EU Strategy on Heating and Cooling launched today, district heating is mentioned on the first page and has a prominent position in the strategy’s vision for the future. The Heat Roadmap Europe project, which is led by the Sustainable Energy Planning Research Group at Aalborg University, has played a key role in this transformation with the research mentioned more than 10 times throughout the strategy’s support documents.

“The whole perception of heating has changed in the Commission over the last few years, and we’re really happy to see our work contribute to this change through real policy,” said David Connolly, Associate Professor at Aalborg University and coordinator of Heat Roadmap Europe, which is part of the 4DH Research Centre and includes partners from Halmstad University, University of Flensburg, PlanEnergi, Ecofys, and the University of Zagreb.

Heat Roadmap Europe combines large heat savings in the buildings with a cost-effective heat supply. The results outline where the heat demand is high enough to justify the investment in a district heating network.

“Our research indicates that district heating can quadruple its share across Europe, from 13% today to almost 50% in the future, so our results suggest that district heating will be a central solution in the EU’s low-carbon transition.”

The work also connects these district heating networks to potential new heat supplies such as power plants, large industries, waste incinerators, heat pumps, solar thermal and deep geothermal.

“We were amazed to find so much heat for these new district heating networks in Europe. In fact, the power plants alone currently have enough heat to supply all of these new district heating networks, so we could use this waste heat to replace the natural gas heating in our cities.”

Heat Roadmap Europe has demonstrated that by looking at heating as an integrated part of the energy system, it is possible to save money, save energy and use more renewable energy sources, even when accounting for the initial investments.

“We often assume it will cost us money to reduce our carbon emissions, but due to all the fuel we save with these energy efficiency measures, we actually save even more money than we spend,” concluded David Connolly.

The EU Heating and Cooling Strategy will influence three upcoming EU directives on Renewable Energy, Energy Efficiency, and the Energy Performance of Buildings that will lead to concrete legislation on heating and cooling in the EU member states. The fourth Heat Roadmap Europe study is financed by Horizon 2020 and will begin in March of this year. It will develop more detailed results for the 14 largest Member States and cover 90% of EUs heat demand.

Further information

  • Coordinator, David Connolly, +45 9940 2483, david@plan.aau.dk, Twitter @davconnolly
  • Professor, Brian Vad Mathiesen, +45 9940 7218, bvm@plan.aau.dk, Twitter @BrianVad
  • Professor, Henrik Lund, +45 9940 8309, lund@plan.aau.dk, www.henriklund.eu
  • Communication Officer, Nina Ferdinand, +45 2119 4775, nif@plan.aau.dk
  • More information about the research and impacts of Heat Roadmap Europe at www.heatroadmap.eu
  • Twitter @HeatRoadmapEU @4DHresearch @STRATEGOproject
  • Read more at www.heatroadmap.eu, www.stratego-project.eu and www.4dh.dk

Key conclusions about energy efficiency in the Heat Roadmap Europe studies

  • Heat savings: Heat savings are a key component in the decarbonisation of the EU energy system. The total heat demand in Europe should be reduced by approximately 30-50%. However, after this point the price of sustainable heat supply is likely to be lower than the price of further heat savings.
  • District Heating: There is currently more heat being wasted in Europe than is required to heat all of the buildings. District heating can capture this excess heat and move it into the buildings. District heating should be increased from today's level of 15% up to 50% in 2050. It should increase in urban areas, where the heat densities have been estimated based on the pan-EU heat atlas. These new district heating networks will use heat from power plants, industry, waste incineration, solar thermal, heat pumps, and deep geothermal.
  • Individual Heat Pumps: In rural areas, individual ground and air-sourced heat pumps should replace existing oil boilers. Heat pumps convert cheap renewable electricity production (such as wind and solar) to efficient renewable heat production (due to their high efficiency). These heat pumps will be supplemented by smaller shares of solar thermal and biomass boilers.
  • Energy System: Heat savings, district heating, and individual heat pumps are key components in a future low-carbon EU energy system. They are fundamental to the technical and economic viability of the Smart Energy System (www.SmartEnergySystem.eu).