Europe told to increase pace of energy change

The European Energy Agency (EEA) has said the continent’s governments urgently need to move away for fossil fuels if they are to meet their targets to decarbonise their heating and cooling operations.

The EEA warned nations face a serious challenge if they are to transform their heating and energy needs in time to meet their stated targets.

The EEA briefing ‘Decarbonising heating and cooling — a climate imperative’ examined sectoral trends and called for stronger policy efforts to reduce energy needs and switch to sustainable heating and cooling in all sectors.

“For the EU and its Member States, decarbonising heating and cooling represents a major challenge on the way to meeting climate targets for 2030 and 2050 and ensuring that fundamental energy needs, such as for residential heating, can be met more securely than they are today,” the report stated. “However, national policymakers face very different challenges and opportunities in decarbonising heating and cooling, because the availability of sustainable energy resources and the demand for heating and cooling from buildings and industry vary significantly at the country and regional levels.”

It added: “To rise to the challenge, Member States will have to assess the sustainable market potentials for national, regional and local renewable energy use and waste heat and cold recovery and devise replacement schemes for fossil-fuel heating systems to increase the deployment of renewable and waste sources for heating and cooling across all sectors. For that, Member States will need to set clear end-dates for fossil fuel subsidies across all energy markets and especially in heating.

The report concluded success depends on the ability of competent authorities to drive high insulation rates, deep-energy retrofits and circular renovation actions across all buildings, and to construct zero-emission buildings.

“At the same time, without an urgent move away from heating systems that use fossil fuels, it is unlikely that the EU’s climate mitigation targets for 2030 will be met,” The EEA continued. “On the supply side, the use of renewable energy sources must increase at a much faster rate, to meet 40% or more of the EU’s heating and cooling demand by 2030 and a minimum of 45% across all market sectors.

“Successful responses to the specific strengths and weaknesses of national and regional decarbonisation pathways will also require policymakers to set strategic research agendas and foster innovation and learning from each other. Most importantly, to implement low-emission heat and cold supply systems cost-effectively, measures will have to target faster building renovation rates, to create nearly zero- and zero-emission buildings, and to substitute fossil fuels with renewable and waste heat and cold energy sources across all sectors.

The EEA added data from Eurostat show that renewable energy accounted for less than a quarter of final energy used for heating and cooling in the EU in 2020. The northern EU countries, where buildings need more heating during winter months, had already reached more than 50% shares of renewable energy for heating and cooling in 2020 using large shares of biomass. But as heating and cooling systems last longer than a decade, replacing fossil fuels with biomass across all countries may have unwanted implications for this feedstock, climate and the environment.

“With the availability of sustainable energy resources and the demand for heating and cooling varying significantly across Europe, there is a need to prioritise the most sustainable local energy sources that correspond to local needs and opportunities,” it added.