Cities with decades-old combined heat and power systems are emitting less carbon than others, and EU policymakers are looking at how to emulate this across the bloc.
When Copenhagen opened its first district heating power plant in 1903, climate change was an unheard-of phenomenon. And as the system rapidly expanded in the 1970s and 80s in response to the oil crisis, the motivations were more about energy security and economics rather than the environment.
But now, that early development has given the city a leg up in the fight against climate change. Today 97% of the city’s heat is provided by warmth generated as a byproduct at power plants. This waste heat is ordinarily released into the air or sea, but in Copenhagen it is harnessed and poured into homes, saving households €1,400 annually. Perhaps more importantly, it averts 65,000 tonnes of CO2 each year that would have been generated from normal heating.
According to the European Commission, 50% of the EU’s annual energy consumption comes from heating and cooling – a fact unknown by most of the public. Natural gas generates almost half of the EU’s heating and cooling, followed by coal, biomass, fuel oil and nuclear. Renewable sources generate only about 5%.
The Commission released a heating and cooling strategy in 2016 which aims, among other things, to promote the use of ambient heat that is otherwise wasted through combined heat and power systems.
This week, stakeholders and policymakers gathered in Brussels to look at the state of play of district heating across Europe. What emerged was a picture of cities at extremely different stages of development. But what is clear is that cities are looking enviously at the Copenhagen example and want to emulate it. Is a new EU heating and cooling strategy needed?