Energy efficiency has proven to be an effective solution for curbing carbon emissions from fossil fuels. But what if we imagined a future energy system without fossil fuels, will it still make sense to invest in energy efficiency or will it be sufficient to develop enough renewable energy to cover demand?
A recent COGEN Europe study, conducted by consultancy Artelys, underscores the importance of energy efficiency for a cost-effective energy transition. Using renewable fuels in the most efficient way will bring significant energy and cost savings by 2050. For example, between 150TWh and 220TWh of energy can be saved annually in Europe if higher investments are made towards energy efficient solutions such as combined heat and power (CHP). That is 2.5 times the annual electricity consumption of Belgium according to 2019 International Energy Agency statistics. The energy and carbon reduced by cogeneration will translate into net savings of 4 to 8 billion euro per year for the European energy system.
Europe will also need to find carbon-neutral and cost-effective solutions for industrial sectors which will prove hard to electrify such as petrochemicals, ceramics, pulp and paper and aluminium. Taking as an example, in Poland, a business with a demand for medium to high-temperature heat of 500GWh can save more than 7 million Euro per year by opting for CHP.
Artelys found many examples how energy efficiency also plays a key role when citizens and communities will look for climate-friendly options to cover their energy needs. For example, delivering renewable heat to a city via district heating with CHP can reduce its energy bill by 3 million euros. Furthermore, a hospital can save up to 50 thousand euros by opting for CHP and a residential CHP unit running on fuel cells and hydrogen reduces the energy bill of a family home by up to 800 euros per year. A mix of renewable fuels and energy efficiency is a win-win for both consumers and the overall energy system.
Integrating different energy systems will be a cornerstone of Europe’s energy transition to keep costs down. As the share of wind and solar power continues to grow in an increasingly electrified energy system over the next decades, Europe must ensure there is enough electricity in the system to meet demand at all times. As a consequence, the need for flexible and reliable storage and generation in times of low wind and sun will grow.
CHP is critical for a highly renewable and electrified system as it is both flexible and dispatchable. As demonstrated by the study, CHP can efficiently use renewable or decarbonised fuels such as hydrogen to quickly ramp power production up and down to complement the availability of wind and sun. The key word is complementing, not competing. Bringing together the electricity, heat and gas grids via CHP can be the backbone of an integrated system, providing zero-carbon energy for a successful energy transition in all sectors of the economy.
The Artelys study concludes that the efficient use of energy sources will be important towards and in a decarbonised Europe. CHP allows Europe to do more with less. It can cost-effectively cover close to a third of total heat, and 50% to even 100% of all non-electrifiable heat depending on the sector. Maximising Europe’s energy efficiency potential and use will help shape a sustainable energy system for the future, benefiting both the European society and economy by providing clean and affordable energy at all times.
What is CHP? Cogeneration (Combined Heat and Power or CHP) is the simultaneous production of electricity and heat, both of which are used in homes, offices, public buildings and factories. CHP is the most efficient solution to produce heat and power, avoiding the waste of valuable energy.
Today, CHP supplies 11% of electricity and 16.5% of heat in Europe, avoiding 250Mt of CO2 emissions equivalent to the annual emissions of 100M petrol cars. In 2030 cogeneration could generate 20% of the EU’s electricity and 25% of its heat, further reducing CO2 emissions by 350 Mt.
Figures and info: https://www.cogeneurope.eu/knowledge-centre/cogeneration-in-2050
Hans Korteweg is the Managing Director of COGEN Europe