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Taking the burn out of heating for low-income households

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The future of heat in buildings is not fossil fuelled. The urgency of the climate crisis, Europe’s 2030 climate targets, the current war in Ukraine and the resulting skyrocketing energy prices all mean we need to massively accelerate efforts to move away from burning fossil fuels in our homes. This is no small task as fossil fuels currently account for over 75% of heat supply, and the residential sector is Europe’s single biggest fossil gas user, responsible for 40% of gas consumption.

The recent energy price volatility and the cripplingly high gas prices make the economics of switching from fossil fuel heating to heating with a heat pump better in 2022 than before the crisis. Those households that can afford it may well be considering the switch.

For lower-income households, however, the high prices make all forms of heating – and most other household expenses – less affordable. For these people, the switch to clean heating is further away than ever. But the risks of remaining locked into expensive fossil fuel use are more acute due to high and volatile prices, rising costs of redundant infrastructure and, potentially, exorbitant costs for hydrogen.

RAP analysis establishes the upfront investment and running costs to switch to heating with a heat pump, before and after the price crisis. Based on this assessment, Louise Sunderland and Duncan Gibb set out strategies to make the switch to clean heating affordable and safe for lower-income households. Targeted subsidies for upfront investment in clean heating technologies are essential, alongside reforms to electricity pricing to help ensure bills are affordable. The study also explores a range of other strategies to secure affordable clean heat such as bringing together combinations of building-level technologies, services and the benefits of cheap renewable electricity generation. We present five recommendations for:

  • Prioritising lower-income households in heat decarbonisation strategies.
  • Ensuring an ‘energy efficiency first’ approach to reduce heating needs.
  • Providing targeted subsidies for clean technologies.
  • Rebalancing burdens away from electricity bills and directing social support to electricity bills.
  • Focussing Europe’s innovation attention on the needs of lower-income households.

Good COP/Bad COP: Balancing fabric efficiency, flow temperatures and heat pumps

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Heat pumps are widely recognised as the key technology to decarbonise building heat demand in Ireland. To receive grants for heat pumps, homeowners in Ireland are required to have a heat demand per unit of floor area, known as a ‘heat loss indicator’ (HLI), below a certain level. The HLI requirement was designed to protect households from high bills if they switched to a heat pump.  

There is a concern that the HLI is limiting heat pump deployment, thereby hindering Ireland’s goal of net zero in 2050. This review of the HLI policy and associated rules was undertaken alongside a discussion of heat pumping technologies and their operation, optimal performance and innovation. While there is still a major role for building fabric energy efficiency upgrades, innovation in heat pumping technologies means they may be able to more easily replace combustion-based technologies than has been previously assumed due to better performance and higher output temperatures.

To achieve more rapid and potentially smoother deployment of heat pumps, current HLI grant requirements should be reevaluated. Initially, the HLI requirements could be loosened, subject to relevant consumer advice and protections. In the longer term, a focus on flow temperatures and in-situ performance may be more appropriate. Building fabric efficiency requirements could be maintained but simplified. Finally, trials and programmes to evaluate heat pump performance in Irish buildings should be expanded and expedited in order to provide accurate and local data on this strategically important technology.

Using Benefit-Cost Analysis to Improve Distribution System Investment Decisions: Reference Report

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Electric utility regulators are paying closer attention than ever before to individual distribution system investment decisions, in part because of the rapid growth in distributed energy resources and the need for new grid modernization investments.

To achieve the best outcomes for ratepayers and society, regulators need robust and comprehensive tools for evaluating utility investments. Benefit-cost analysis is, in many cases, a superior analytical tool to traditional least cost/best fit methods. It can recognize and maximize a wider range of benefits and consider a broader range of impacts. It also allows for a more detailed analysis.

This reference report compares the two analytical approaches and describes the many opportunities to use benefit-cost analysis (BCA) in new and better ways.

Author John Shenot and contributors Elaine Prause and Jessica Shipley also explore five crucial questions that regulators must answer as they shape benefit-cost analysis policies for their jurisdictions:

  • In what proceedings will we use BCA methods?
  • Who will conduct BCAs?
  • How will we engage stakeholders?
  • Which cost-effectiveness test(s) will we use?
  • How will we use BCA results to make decisions?

The reference report includes many examples of BCA use from state regulatory proceedings.

A companion issue brief offers a condensed treatment of the topic for those seeking a summary.

A policy toolkit for global mass heat pump deployment

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Heat pumps, a critical technology for clean energy systems, are poised to become the most important technology for heating decarbonisation. Currently, the vast majority of heat is provided by fossil fuels. In order to promote and encourage heat pump installations across the globe, the Regulatory Assistance Project, CLASP and the Global Buildings Performance Network have developed this heat pump policy toolkit, which provides a suite of tools, and advice on how to use them, for policymakers interested in promoting this critical technology.

The structure of the toolkit is loosely based on that of a Greek temple, with foundations and pillars, supporting a rapidly growing heat pump market. The interactive toolkit (which includes clickable links throughout) also features short videos that give an overview of each relevant element of the toolkit. These videos make up a short series which complements this document.

This toolkit works as a synthesis of policy approaches to heat pump deployment and a guide to designing the best packages of policies. As you’ll see in the toolkit (and in the graphic below), a complete policy package needs to consider foundational elements and must also take account of each pillar. We provide details, examples and potential issues, and solutions within the various policy elements discussed.

Heat Pump Toolkit temple

Foundational elements of this toolkit recognise the need for coordination and communication around heat pump policy efforts and strategies.

Pillar 1 considers economic and market-based instruments. These instruments are fundamentally associated with balancing the economics of heat use towards clean options, such as heat pumps, so that their lifetime costs are cheaper than fossil-based alternatives.

Pillar 2 considers financial support. Within this pillar, we identify three key elements of financial support for heat pumps — grants and tax rebates, loans and heat-as-a-service packages.

Pillar 3 considers regulations and standards. We look at buildings codes and standards, appliance standards and heat planning and zoning.

To build an effective heat pump policy package, policymakers must consider foundational elements as well as each of the pillars. And even within each pillar, combinations of elements may be appropriate.

Collaborating for Gas Utility Decarbonization

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Beginning in late 2021, RMI and National Grid jointly convened a series of facilitated collaborative workshops with stakeholders from the nonprofit and utility sectors across several regions, including RAP. This roundtable group explored what it may take to decarbonize the gas distribution system in the United States and the customer end uses it serves today, with a focus on the nation’s residential and commercial buildings.

This report, the roundtable’s final product, describes how the process was designed and conducted and lays out a set of guiding principles and strategies to inform decarbonization of the gas utility and corresponding end uses. Because participants had widely divergent perspectives on an array of issues, the report seeks to reflect initial areas of consensus and does not necessarily reflect the specific policy positions of any individual participating organization. This report is meant as a first step to inform further discussion and action for policymakers and regulators, primarily at the state level.

The clash with gas: Should it stay or should it go?

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Europe’s stated goal of achieving a net-zero power system by 2050 is inherently replete with enormous opportunities and challenges. High energy prices and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have now ratcheted up the urgent need for action to emergency levels. Policymakers are facing the challenge of a lifetime to secure the supply of energy and protect disadvantaged consumers while maintaining momentum towards long-term climate goals. The events of 2022 have made evident to many experts that the transition away from fossil gas will figure prominently in all of these objectives.

To support policymakers and the numerous stakeholders in planning for a deliberate reduction in the use of fossil gas in the coming years, RAP has developed five fundamental guiding principles. The principles are general in nature due to the breadth of this gas transition and the various policy instruments that governments will need to reform such a large part of our energy economy. In light of the current crises, the authors have also applied these best practices specifically to the European Commission’s proposed Hydrogen and Decarbonised Gas Market package and Hydrogen Strategy, as well as to the hydrogen strategies of selected Member States.

To achieve an efficient and cost-effective transition away from fossil gas, we offer policymakers the following recommendations:

Graphic with five principles for transitioning away from fossil gas

 

Levelling the playing field: Aligning heating energy taxes and levies in Europe with climate goals

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Taxing energy in line with its environmental harm aligns the prices facing consumers with policy objectives. Energy taxes and levies encourage energy efficiency and raise revenues for governments, which can then dedicate them to energy transition projects. Not all energy sources are equal, however, when it comes to their environmental-damage costs. Adding taxes and levies disproportionately to electricity encourages the continuation of an emissions-intensive status quo and discourages investments in key decarbonisation technologies, such as heat pumps. This paper shines a light on the imbalance in energy taxation across almost all European markets and makes the case for reform.

The authors explain the current structure of energy taxes and levies in five key European countries where reform would be beneficial: Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Germany. All five countries overtax electricity — in three cases by more than 200% — and undertax oil and fossil gas while not taxing wood use at all. Only in Italy is the tax rate on heating oil close to the value of the environmental costs caused by its use.

The European Commission’s proposals in the Fit for 55 Package would go a long way towards addressing the taxation issue. But these proposals would need to be implemented and there’s no guarantee they’ll survive the upcoming negotiation process. Member States wishing to align their tax and levy policies with their climate targets can act now to begin the process of rebalancing.

The authors detail four approaches to rebalance energy taxes and levies, drawing on examples from around the continent.

  • Option 1: Lower tax on electricity for heating
  • Option 2: Environmental taxation
  • Options 3 and 4: Shift levies to public budget or fossil fuels

Electrifying last-mile delivery: A total cost of ownership comparison of battery-electric and diesel trucks in Europe

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Europe’s increases in online shopping and delivery over the last two years show no signs of waning. Parcel delivery vehicles make up one of the most significant heavy-duty vehicle segments by volume in Europe, recording a market share of 11% in 2020. Fortunately, their predictable schedules and relatively short routes make last-mile delivery vehicles a prime candidate for electrification. In fact, electric delivery trucks will soon be cheaper to use than diesel trucks.  

The International Council on Clean Transportation and RAP break down the various vehicle costs for electric trucks, the energy and network expenses for charging them, and the availability of purchase premiums in six major European cities. In some scenarios, electric trucks reach cost parity with diesel vehicles yet this year. Without the support of these premiums, parity is delayed until 2025 or even 2030 in some cities. 

Based on this comprehensive analysis, the authors conclude that battery-electric trucks are economically viable today, given the currently availability of purchase premiums. Other important aspects to consider when electrifying last-mile delivery fleets include choosing the appropriate battery size and reducing operational costs through smart charging of the vehicles. 

Policymakers have the ability to advance electrification of electric delivery trucks by: 

  • Implementing a national bonus-malus tax scheme to finance purchase incentives for zero-emission trucks. 
  • Imposing emissions charges on all diesel vehicles entering low- and zero-emission zones in city centres. 
  • Deploying ‘smart’ charging infrastructure in urban logistics depots. 
  • Requiring Member States to implement time-varying electricity and network tariffs to ensure affordability for logistics operators electrifying their fleets. 

Power System Blueprint

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Accomplishing climate neutrality by 2050 requires a zero-emissions power sector by the mid-2030s. Securing a decarbonized power system early will unlock pathways for the whole economy. One of the biggest challenges to accomplishing this ambitious goal is time—we have a need for speed if we want to meet decarbonization goals by 2035.  

This is why RAP has created the Power System Blueprint, an interactive website that allows visitors to view different options for decarbonizing Europe’s power system. The Blueprint lays out how to design the regulatory context to achieve a clean, reliable, equitable and affordable European power system by 2035. RAP pulled together the latest insights for supporting regulators, NGO’s, governments and anyone interested in the decarbonization pursuit. 

The Blueprint is designed as a schematic of regulatory solutions linked to six important central principles. In the suite of regulatory solutions (also known as factsheets),you will find comprehensive information, the most important regulatory steps and further reading. 

The decarbonization of the power sector can be done by 2035 but will require a rapid and systemic rethink of the existing European power system regulatory landscape. Within the Power System Blueprint website, you’ll find solutions to some of the some of the largest tasks we face working within this tight timeframe.   

Blueprint logo

The joy of flex: Embracing household demand-side flexibility as a power system resource for Europe

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To meet its 2050 climate goals, Europe will need to purge its power sector of carbon emissions by the mid-2030s. This means integrating renewable energy resources such as wind and solar at an unprecedented scale and pace. Only one path allows for rapid decarbonisation while maintaining a reliable energy system, minimising system costs and increasing energy democracy. We must ensure that customers have the incentives and tools they need to adjust the flexible portion of their electricity use in ways that are beneficial for the system.

Flexible resources are essential to balance supply and demand and make best use of renewable generation.

In addition to climate impacts, the most recent energy price crisis has underscored the urgent need to release Europe from gas dependency — and therefore from exposure to gas price volatility — by progressing swiftly to a clean, efficient and electrified energy system.

This paper focuses on the greatest untapped source of flexible demand across Europe: household flexibility. Households can increasingly shift how and when they use electricity, without compromising utility or comfort, thanks to new digital technologies and storage. Yet, as the users with the lowest individual electricity use, they often face the greatest barriers. If enabled effectively, through inclusive access to flexible assets, markets and retail offers, there is an opportunity to improve energy services and reduce costs, which is particularly important for low-income and vulnerable households.

For household demand-side flexibility to take its rightful place in the energy transition, swift and concurrent effort is needed on multiple levels of policy and regulation. Underpinning this process is the principle that demand-side flexibility is more than an individual customer right; it’s a vital, cost-effective power system resource that should be valued as such.

Europe needs a cohesive regulatory strategy to create the infrastructure that will enable large-scale, aggregated customer flexibility. As a starting point, this paper presents a five-point action plan for scaling up household flexibility in Europe, with specific recommendations for carrying out each action.

  • Action 1: Create robust tools for measuring and valuing customer flexibility.
  • Action 2: Incentivise flexibility through energy market price signals.
  • Action 3: Ensure a level playing field for demand-side resources.
  • Action 4: Accelerate installation of flexible assets in homes.
  • Action 5: Make flexible actions easy and safe for customers.

By investing now in strategies that wholeheartedly embrace household demand-side flexibility as a power system resource, Europe can avoid paying a much higher price later.