Calefacción con hidrógeno: revisión de la evidencia científica

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La energía utilizada para la calefacción y refrigeración representa alrededor del 50% del consumo total de energía en el mundo. De esta cifra, casi la mitad se consume para calentar edificios. Y la mayor parte de la energía utilizada se obtiene de combustibles fósiles. Si bien las medidas de eficiencia energética en los edificios pueden contribuir enormemente a reducir las emisiones de la calefacción y la refrigeración, sigue habiendo una gran demanda de alternativas de calefacción con bajas o nulas emisiones de carbono.

Últimamente, los representantes de la industria del gas y la calefacción han promovido el hidrógeno verde como solución clave para sustituir al gas fósil en la red de distribución. Aunque hay muchos usos finales legítimos, actuales y futuros, para el hidrógeno verde, ¿existen pruebas que justifiquen la calefacción de edificios con hidrógeno?

Este artículo analiza diversos análisis independientes sobre el uso del hidrógeno para calentar espacios interiores y para el uso de agua caliente. Se incluyen un total de 32 estudios realizados a escala internacional, regional, nacional, estatal y municipal por un amplio abanico de entidades, como universidades, institutos de investigación, organizaciones intergubernamentales y consultoras. Ninguno de los 32 estudios, mediante el análisis de las pruebas, avala el uso generalizado del hidrógeno para calefacción. Por el contrario, la investigación independiente existente hasta el momento sugiere que, en comparación con otras alternativas como las bombas de calor, la energía solar térmica y la calefacción urbana, el uso del hidrógeno para la calefacción doméstica es menos económico, menos eficiente, consume más recursos y está asociado a un mayor impacto medioambiental.

Clean heat standards: New tools for the fossil fuel phaseout in Europe

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Europe is heavily reliant on fossil fuels in the heating sector. The EU has set itself a goal of deploying 30 million additional heat pumps by 2030. To advance the transition away from fossil fuels in the heating sector, the EU and its Member States have recently proposed or agreed on several heat-related policies. This includes an emissions trading scheme for greenhouse gases from heating and transport. The European Commission also announced that it will propose a revision of ecodesign rules for heating appliances, meaning a de facto ban on the sale of standalone fossil fuel boilers by 2029.  Despite these positive actions, additional policy measures are needed to achieve rapid, effective and fair decarbonisation of heating. 

This paper explores how novel policy tools called ‘clean heat standards’ could reinforce the EU framework for heat decarbonisation. Clean heat standards place a quantitative target on market actors, such as energy network companies, energy suppliers and manufacturers of heating equipment, to decarbonise heating and provide some flexibility in how to achieve it. This definition captures different tools, including some already discussed or in use in France, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States. These tools can complement other clean transition policies, for instance appliance standards and bans can directly rule out certain technologies from the market, while clean heat standards could provide a positive target for market actors to meet.  

Clean heat standards, coupled with complementary policies, can help accelerate the transition away from fossil fuel heating. RAP offers recommendations to help decision-makers make the most of these tools.

How to solve the UK’s heat pump problem

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With fossil fuel prices skyrocketing, emissions from homes in the UK stubbornly high and the price of clean electricity from renewables tumbling, it’s clear that we are not taking the right approach to heating our buildings. Heating, which is dominated by gas, makes up a large share of energy consumption and contributes 23 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions, so tackling it is vital for both energy security and clean energy goals.

Government and much independent analysis identifies heat pumps as the key technology to replace gas boilers. The British government has committed to installing 600,000 of them a year by 2028. Yet while the number of heat pump installations is growing, deployment in the UK remains at very low levels.

Preliminary estimates for 2022 show that the UK installed only 60,000 heat pumps – equivalent to two heat pumps per 1,000 households. This puts the UK at the bottom of the European heat pump league table. In Finland, which tops the rankings, nearly 70 heat pumps per 1,000 households have been installed.

How can the UK become a European leader in heat pumps? The House of Lords’ Environment and Climate Change Committee has carried out an inquiry into the UK’s main heat pump support scheme, called the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS). It concluded that the scheme is “failing to deliver on its objectives with a disappointingly low take-up of grants”; at the present rate only half of the allocated budget would be spent. The design of BUS is not perfect, but it has stimulated the market, even without any government promotion. After failed programmes such as the Green Deal and the Green Homes Grant, the UK can ill-afford yet another scheme that does not meet its potential.

Grant policies such as BUS are typical in all markets with significant heat pump deployment, but it is only one of many ingredients for a successful programme. When we analysed successful heat pump policies around the world, we found that in addition to funding programmes such as the BUS, three other ingredients are needed.

Ingredient one: the running costs of heat pumps need to be significantly lower than those of fossil fuel heating to encourage consumers to make the switch. While heat pumps are currently cheaper to run than gas boilers, the cost savings are relatively modest. The reason for this is that in the UK electricity is taxed for carbon emissions and the majority of levies for environmental and social programmes are attached to electricity bills. Gas and heating oil are subject to no carbon tax and much more limited levies. Several countries have faced similar problems and have begun to reform how they tax and attribute levies to energy, making heat pumps a much more affordable proposition. The UK government is working on this through its electricity market review but this is being held up by delays.

Ingredient two: market certainty through clear regulation and phase-out dates for fossil fuel heating systems. The International Energy Agency says no more fossil fuel heating systems should get installed after 2025 to meet net-zero targets. Many countries have adopted and announced such bans and once put in place, investment in heat pumps has followed. As the Lords committee points out, mixed messages around hydrogen for heating and the lack of clarity about the future of the gas grid is not aiding the transition away from fossil heating. Chris Skidmore MP was right to call for a firm end date for the installation of gas boilers in his net-zero review. The government should also firm up its proposals to ban fossil fuels in new homes and homes off the gas grid.

Ingredient three: wider co-ordination around heat pumps, alongside effective communication to consumers. As the Lords committee points out, 80 per cent of people in the UK have little or no awareness of heat pumps and almost two-thirds are not aware of the need to change their heating system as part of the journey to net zero. A well-designed and executed engagement programme that boosts the role for local authorities and local heating solutions is crucial.

The decarbonisation of UK heating was previously primarily a legal requirement. It’s increasingly clear, however, that it’s an economic imperative, too. Significant political capital is needed to reform the UK’s policy around heating, but that investment will return dividends. The sooner the system can be reformed, the better the returns will be.

The original version of this article first appeared in the New Statesman.

Climate Action is Energy Security: Recent Developments in the Power Sectors of India, China, and Europe

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Significant progress has been made in the renewable energy sector, with wind and solar power making up a substantial portion of global power production, accounting for almost one-quarter of noncarbon-emitting generation. This is a considerable improvement from just a decade ago when they produced less than 1% of total global electricity. Furthermore, wind and solar power are now often the long term, least cost options, making them an attractive investment for countries looking to decarbonize their energy systems.

Despite the growing momentum towards renewable energy, global coal-fired generation still totaled a record high in 2021, up by 8.5% from the previous year. The lion’s share of CO2 emissions still come from countries committed to becoming net-zero carbon in the next few decades. Nonetheless, this article suggests that a decarbonized global power system is still possible and the transition can be achieved at a low cost while maintaining high levels of reliability.

To support this clean energy transition, the article discusses the power sector reforms that are currently underway in India, China and Europe. Despite their different institutions, history and power system setups, these regions share some common trends: they rely heavily on planning and recognize the value of demand-side resources. These regions offer promising pathways for power sector reform and they provide hope for a decarbonized energy future.



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English version is also available.

How to prepare our grids for electric trucks

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In mid-February, the EU Commission is due to publish a law proposal essential to the energy transition, the next CO2 standards for heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs)The proposal is expected to accelerate the emissions reduction of fossil-fueled trucks and, in parallel, incentivise sales of battery electric trucks.

While it’s widely recognised that electrifying freight kilometres is key to cutting the EU’s transport emissions, some stakeholders raised doubts about whether power grids will be able to manage the charging of electric trucks.

The short answer is yes, but accelerated grid connections and smart charging will be key to integrating these new EVs into our power grids and keeping costs in check.

“Smart” or “managed” charging means charging EV batteries, for instance, those of electric truck fleets at a rest stop or depot, when costs for electricity are lowest, i.e. renewables are available and there’s spare capacity on the grid. That way, smart charging reduces carbon emissions and the need for costly upgrades of the power grid. 

Ambitious CO2 targets are key

Setting an ambitious target for zero-emission trucks in the upcoming proposal is crucial to accelerate urgently needed reductions of freight emissions.

Trucks — ranging from urban delivery trucks to long-haul tractor-trailers — represent less than 2% of Europe’s vehicles but cause around 25% of emissions from road transport, and freight volumes are growing. 

While current e-truck numbers are still low in Europe, they will grow significantly through 2030, according to announcements by governments and truckmakers.

Recent research shows that by 2035, most electric trucks across short, regional and long-haul segments will likely be competitive to Diesel trucks in cost, but also range, payload and driving times. Energy regulators and grid operators need to anticipate these growing e-truck numbers and proactively plan for trucks’ grid use. 

Plan for it now

To optimally integrate electric trucks into power grids, governments need to start planning now. This includes matching the needs of hauliers in terms of charging demand and locations, with the grid’s current and planned hosting capacity, e.g. as outlined in national grid investment plans.

The energy demand for battery-electric trucks in Germany is estimated at 13 TWh in 2030, or the equivalent of about 1% of the country’s total electricity produced. This does not necessarily imply increasing peak demand by the same amount. Some investments in grid reinforcements will be needed, but how much will fundamentally depend on how truck charging is optimised.

The analysis available so far suggests that additional peak demand from electric truck charging can be reduced by 50-80% if charging is optimised, depending on use cases and favourable regulatory conditions, e.g. the availability of time-of-use tariffs.  

The majority of electric trucks needed for urban and regional use can charge at the depot, where smart charging overnight or mid-day (e.g. to absorb wind or solar energy) provides great potential to save costs.

Long-haul trucks, operating long-distance trips across the EU, will rely more on public charging. Their mandatory resting time of at least nine hours offers plenty of flexibility to exploit readily available grid capacity as well as cheaper energy.

Smart charging, based on time-of-use tariffs, helps truck operators automatically adjust their charging to constantly changing cost of electricity. It is also possible to optimise for shorter charging periods, for example during their minimum 45-minute mandatory break at highway truck rest areas.

A growing range of smart charging services is already available for passenger EVs across Europe offering tariffs and software that helps fleet owners to optimise charging to their schedule.

Energy market reforms just opened for consultation, offer an important opportunity to advance the availability of time-of-use pricing of energy and networks, and the build-out of a market for smart charging services.

Key arbiters in preparing the power grids are Europe’s transmission and distribution grid operators who have a tremendous opportunity in e-mobility to optimise grid efficiency.  

Make truck charging a priority

EU decision makers can help truck operators transition to electric by quickly finalising two more legislations that will help deploy the charging infrastructure in the next decade.

The Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation, currently in final negotiations, will support Member States in building the necessary public charging framework for trucks along Europe’s highways.

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (also in negotiations) sets requirements to upgrade new and existing buildings with EV charging infrastructure and shouldn’t miss the opportunity to advance upgrades at logistics depots, too.

The EU won’t be able to reach its climate goals without drastically cutting freight emissions. Direct electrification via battery trucks is now the widely recognised way forward, offering the most energy-efficient option to decarbonise road transport.

But if charging is not planned for proactively, and managed smartly, the additional electricity demand will lead to higher costs for consumers, the power system, and the environment.

It may also eventually slow down the clean energy transition, or pave the way to more inefficient alternatives such as hydrogen.

Accelerating EV sales is not enough — we now need to ensure EV’s efficient integration into our power system, and use the existing infrastructure more efficiently before expanding it, through smart planning and charging.

The original version of this article appeared in Euractiv.

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.

Turning off the gas: Stronger and coherent EU policy to accelerate the fossil gas phaseout

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Rapidly phasing out fossil gas demand has become a top priority in Europe. Existing European legislation is expected to achieve only moderate reductions by 2030. The ongoing energy crisis has provided an opportunity to aim for even more extensive decreases in fossil gas demand. Legislation under negotiation, informed by the European Commission’s REPowerEU plan, is expected to go further, yet more ambitious targets and a unified policy approach could achieve potential reductions currently left on the table.  

RAP’s analysis finds that even with full implementation of the REPowerEU plan, by 2030 natural gas demand in Europe will remain roughly equivalent to Russian gas imports in 2021. A stronger energy efficiency target in the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) and a higher renewable energy target in the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) could reduce gas demand and eliminate Russian gas imports. 

Furthermore, the Hydrogen and Decarbonised Gas Market package should emphasize integrated planning and targeted applications of alternative gases to ensure its consistent with a fossil gas phaseout. 

A joint, coherent policy approach — addressing more ambitious targets for the EED and the RED and complementary metrics applied to the Hydrogen and Decarbonised Gas Market package — would guarantee that fossil gas use is rapidly reduced and the infrastructure is in place to meet the remaining demand equitably and efficiently.

How the European Union incentivises inefficient renewable heating

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The EU’s renewables directives count what fuel is burned for heating, as opposed to the amount of heat produced.

Never has the spotlight shone so brightly on Europe’s heating and cooling sector. And for a good reason. Fossil gas makes up around 39% of the energy used to heat buildings and much of Europe wants to rapidly phase it out.

To help do so, the European Parliament recently voted in favour of a key amendment to the Renewable Energy Directive (RED): raising the annual target for the share of renewable energy in heating and cooling.

The new goal—a 2.3 percentage-point increase each year until 2030—is roughly double the one proposed in the Fit-for-55 package unveiled in 2021.

The clear signal has been set, yet there is something off with the way the metric is measured. By counting fuel burned instead of heat produced and not including electricity used for heating or cooling, the RED favours inefficient technologies.

Ignoring the mushy peas on the floor

Imagine a toddler having lunch. Her father has prepared a bowl of 300 grams of mushy peas and figures that this meal should meet half of the two-year-old’s nutrient needs for the day. She is a messy eater though and jettisons around half of her food on the ground. Once her dad sees the empty plate, he pats himself on the back, thinking that he filled her belly. He should look at the floor.

Measuring the renewable share of heating and cooling in the RED is simple. It tallies all the energy used to heat and cool from renewable sources, then divides it by the total. The key question is: which energy counts as renewable?

Unfortunately, the RED’s answer to this is flawed. It only counts final energy use or, in other words, the fuel that is delivered to the customer to use in their heating appliance. That means if someone burns a log in a fireplace at 50% efficiency and it produces 100 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of heat, how much “renewable heat” does that account for?

If you were thinking “100 kWh” you would be wrong. The RED counts that as 200 kWh, since that is the energy content of the biomass that was combusted at 50% efficiency.

That is a big problem because heating systems have different efficiencies. An electric heat pump typically produces 100 kWh of heat with 33 kWh of input electricity. The remaining 67 kWh is drawn from the ambient air for free. An 85% efficient pellet boiler needs 117 kWh.

The point: Less efficient technologies need more input energy for the same useful heat outcome. The RED discourages switching to more efficient heating appliances and electrification. It counts the full weight of the mushy peas, not just those that were eaten.

Anti-electrification policy

The other problem with the RED methodology is its scope. It does not consider the renewable electricity used for heating and cooling at all. Whether it is used to drive a heat pump or just an electrical resistance heater, it does not count toward the renewable heating and cooling target. Even for cooling, which is virtually only based on electricity.

This is an effort to avoid double-counting. The data wranglers do not want to count renewable electricity in both the power sector and the heating and cooling sector. As a data wrangler myself, I appreciate their commitment to neat allocation. But in this case, neatness has its downside.

Electricity providing a heating or cooling service should be considered towards the renewable heating and cooling target. Otherwise, heat pumps could be undervalued in terms of their contributions. If the methodology does not even consider where the electricity comes from, the heat output of the heat pump can never be fully renewable.

If the renewable share of electricity would be considered in the RED’s methodology as a heating and cooling service, the incentive to promote heat pumps would even be stronger. Member States will thus be encouraged to implement policies that aim to achieve the heating and cooling target, with the ancillary benefit of growing the deployment of efficient heat pumps to do so.

As it stands, the least efficient and least electric technologies are those that have the most potential to meet the goals under the RED. More efficient and electricity-based heating appliances risk falling behind.

The way forward

Getting metrics right is crucial to ensuring a rapid and balanced transition to clean heating and cooling. The Renewable Energy Directive’s goal should be to promote efficient heating and cooling technologies that maximise useful energy while minimising input energy.

This means counting the useful heat that is produced by a heating system, not the input energy needed. It also means including the electricity used for renewable heating and cooling.

Since electricity realistically contributes to both the headline renewable energy target (32% in the RED II and voted to increase to 45% by the European Parliament), as well as the renewable heating and cooling target. Both calculations should factor it in so that the statistics are accurate.

Double-counting can be avoided by ignoring the electricity used in the heating and cooling sector when calculating the headline target.

Metrics matter. Only by counting the useful heat produced can the Renewable Energy Directive provide the right incentives for phasing out fossil gas and spurring the clean electrification of heat.


A version of this article originally appeared on Foresight Climate & Energy.

Photo: Holger Schué from Pexels.