Is the EU heating sector “fit for 55”?

Jul 14, 2021

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Without putting the heating sector on track, the EU cannot reach net zero. The Green Deal provides the opportunity to set the course towards making heating fit for 55. Dr. Sibylle Braungardt explains why and how this can succeed.

With the fit for 55 package published on Wednesday, the EU Commission 2030 proposes the legislative framework for reaching the emissions reduction target by 55 percent in 2030 and for ensuring the transition to net zero by 2050. The heating sector is addressed across several legislative pieces, with key provisions on its decarbonization being provided in the Renewable Energy Directive. The directive sets the target for increasing the renewable energy shares in heating and cooling by 1.1 percent per year in the EU Member States. In the proposal for the recast directive, this target remains the same in size and its formulation is more binding, while the target for countries using waste heat is raised from 1.3 percent to 1.5 percent. This leads to the following questions: Is this target enough to steer the sector towards full decarbonization? Are Member States of the EU on track to meet the target? What action is needed to make the buildings sector fit for 55?

Status quo: Only 22 percent of EU heating and cooling coming from renewable sources

The EU-27 heating sector is largely based on fossil fuels: renewable sources account only for 22 percent in 2019. The shares differ largely between the Member States. Sweden, Finland, Latvia and Estonia take a leading role with shares of more than 50 percent. On the lower end, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland and Luxembourg have shares of less than 10 percent.

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The size of the pie charts reflects the share of renewable heating/cooling

Biomass is by far the most important renewable energy source for heating in most EU Member States, accounting for about 80 percent of renewable heating in the EU-27. Heat pumps provide 12 percent of the total renewable heating demand in the EU-27, with larger shares in the south as well as France and Sweden. Solar thermal energy provides significant shares in southern countries such as Cyprus, Greece and Malta, however it only accounts for 2 percent of renewable heating at EU level.

Ambition of the 1.1 percent increase target – on track towards decarbonization?

To meet the EU goal of net zero in 2050, the heating sector needs to be fully decarbonized. With the target of 1.1 percent, renewable heating/cooling will account for up to around 36 percent in 2030. This implies that the required annual rate has to more than double after 2030 to reach 100 percent in 2050.

Towards meeting the 1.1 percent target: more action needed

Most Member States do not even reach the 1.1 percent target yet and are far below. Some of them are even worsening their shares. Especially the Member States with high heating demand such as Germany, France or Italy fall short of meeting the target.

 

How to decarbonize the heating sector?

There are two main drivers for increasing the share of renewable heating: Reducing energy demand and replacing fossil fuels by renewable technologies.

Let´s approach the demand: astonishingly, demand for heating and cooling in the EU has been largely constant over the past 15 years (see the graph below). How can we cut down energy consumption for heating? There may be many answers to this question, but today let´s put the focus on retrofitting buildings to reach targets: the retrofit rate of buildings must be doubled while ensuring deep renovations. The recast Energy Performance of Buildings Directive to be proposed later this year is the opportunity to put this on track for the coming years.

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On the other hand, the deployment of renewable technologies in heating/cooling needs to accelerate. A fast phase-out of fossil fuels for heating is necessary, along with a massive roll-out of heat pumps and renewable district heating. For process heat, we need to increase energy efficiency, transition to low-carbon processes, foster circular economy approaches and material efficiency. With biomass being a limited resource, its use should be restricted to ensure sustainability.

Conclusions

Renewable sources account only for 22 percent of heating/cooling in 2019 and a yearly increase by 1.1 percent is not enough to reach net zero in 2050. In addition, progress in most Member States is far below the target.

If we want to reach the 2030 targets and net zero in 2050, we need to approach solutions reducing energy demand and replacing fossil fuels.

The retrofit rate of buildings must be doubled while ensuring deep renovations and the revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive to be proposed later this year is the opportunity to put this on track for the coming years.

Concluding: Without putting the heating sector on track, the EU cannot reach net zero. The Green Deal provides the opportunity to set the course towards making heating fit for 55.

* Dr. Sibylle Braungardt is Senior Researcher at the department Energy & Climate of the Oeko-Institut in Freiburg is dealing with the heat transition in her scientific work. This article was written with the assistance of Clara Schlomann.

Published at blog.oeko.de