Rhein on Energy and Climate

The unusually harsh 2010 winter in Europe has led to much higher consumption of coal and gas to warm homes and offices, and it naturally leads one to query about the ways our children and grandchildren will heat their homes 40 years from today.

The European Union aims at reducing its CO2 emissions by at least 80 percent until 2050 in order to achieve an essentially C02-free energy supply. This will require substantial improvements in energy efficiency and a massive switch towards renewable energies.

Judging by its performance since 1990, it will be extremely difficult to reach such a target. Germany, by far the biggest EU energy consuming country, has been able to reduce its primary energy consumption by no more than 0.5 percent annually, essentially due to higher energy efficiency. Projecting these data into the future, the EU might generate an improvement of energy efficiency of about one third until 2050. Lowering C02 emissions will therefore have to be achieved mainly by switching towards renewable energies, essentially hydropower, wind, biomass and solar.

Only biomass constitutes a direct input for generating heat; all the other renewable energy sources can only generate electricity, which by 2050 should be totally C02 free.

Biomass being unable to produce more than 10 percent of European demand for heating

heating will have to be done essentially electrically, as is somewhat the case today in France, thanks to its huge nuclear power capacity. Heating electrically does not pose any technically. Two major systems for doing so exist today: reverse air conditioning and heat pumps, though both are being used only marginally. The main impediment against electric heating is its low energy efficiency and, consequently, its high cost.

This summary analysis leads to two conclusions.

First, it is imperative to fully switch Europe’s electric capacity to renewable sources by the middle of the century and to expand it substantially in order to satisfy rising demand for heating; transport and power needs in other areas.

It is equally imperative to substantially reduce Europe’s heating requirements by putting in place a long-term strategy for energetic refitting of the building stock. To that end, Europe will need to invest substantially more in research and development of low-energy buildings, advanced insulating building materials and heating technologies.

The time until 2050 is very short. Preparing for it must start today with every EU citizen and politician asking permanently how to heat our homes in 2050.

Brussels 23.12.10 Eberhard Rhein

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  1. Dear Mr. Rhein,

    Many thanks for this analysis.

    Indeed, a stronger use of heat pumps could greatly contribute to Europe achieving its long-term energy efficiency and CO2 reduction goals.

    The benefit would be even greater if the heat pumps were to use natural refrigerants instead of f-gases, therefore drastically reducing direct greenhouse gas emissions.

    A good explanation of the potential of natural refrigerants in heating and cooling appliances can be found in the conference report of ATMOsphere 2010 – International Workshop in Natural Refrigerants: http://www.r744.com/articles/2010-10-11-atmosphere-report-2010-on-natural-refrigerants-available-for-free-download.php

    Best regards.

  2. The proposal for a new EED (energy efficiency directive) makes many suggestions for clearing ambiguities and doubts presented in this post. Wide-spreading cogeneration and district heating are surely the right answer.

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