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Where Do We Go From Here: Visions for a Clean Heat Standard

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In a webinar discussion, panelists discussed efforts across the country to put in place clean heat standards or other mandates for reduction of emissions from thermal end uses.

Where Do We Go From Here: Visions for a Clean Heat Standard

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The term “transition” implies moving away from one thing and toward something else. The energy transition in the United States has challenged utility regulators to ensure that the movement away from fossil-fuel-dominated resources, and the adoption of lower-carbon resources in their place, will not put at risk the economic benefits, security, and reliability associated with our current energy system.

As part of this transition, states across the country are exploring ways to lower the emissions associated with a particular energy demand: building heat. In a webinar discussion, panelists took a closer look at a variety of these efforts under way. Policies adopted or being considered by Northeast and Western states illustrate how cleaner heat does not need to be an “either/or” proposition, but instead can provide everyone — suppliers, consumers, and grid operators — with choices and a path toward a lower-carbon future.

Owning the future: A framework of regulations for decarbonising owner-occupied homes in Scotland

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Scotland’s recent Heat in Buildings Strategy sets out a plan to achieve the ambitious target for all Scottish buildings to be decarbonised by 2045. In practice this means replacing the heating systems of nearly 90% of Scotland’s 2.5 million homes that are currently heated with fossil fuels. As part of its regulatory framework, the Strategy states that all homes should achieve a minimum energy performance, defined as Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) C, by 2033. And all fossil fuel boilers will be phased out beginning in 2025. In short, there’s a lot to do over the next 20 years.

In Owning the future: A framework of regulations for decarbonising owner-occupied homes in Scotland, authors Dr. Catrin Maby and Louise Sunderland take a deep dive into the Strategy, focusing specifically on the owner-occupied building stock. The proposals in this report aim to identify and fill gaps in the framework of regulations, as well as ensure that implementation is well timed and staged so that fabric improvements are completed before heating systems are changed. The proposals also take into account different building types and the need to decarbonise higher carbon fuels first. Regulations alone, however, do not guarantee successful renovations, so the report outlines essential funding, finance, practical support and safeguards for affordability that must come alongside.

The authors put forth a number of recommendations on how to best strengthen the Strategy. Although specifically designed for Scotland, these recommendations may be applicable to any government designing an efficient, effective and fair regulatory framework:

  • Remove uncertainty on the decarbonisation options for buildings to ensure all actions are no regrets
  • Enable effective standards through changes to EPCs and the Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP)
  • Introduce a fabric energy efficiency standard to enable efficient, flexible heating
  • Phase out fossil fuels for heating through early incentives, and regulatory triggers and backstops
  • Enable alternative compliance routes for more complex, multi-occupancy buildings
  • Utilise existing compliance structures and resource local authorities to enable and enforce

You can find the report’s executive summary here.

How much insulation is needed? A low-consumption, smart comfort standard for existing buildings

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National and local governments are increasingly turning to regulated minimum standards for the energy performance of buildings to kick-start the renovation of the stock. But how can these standards be used to define the most efficient pathway for buildings to fully decarbonise? RAP outlines a standard that defines the minimum insulation, airtightness and ventilation levels needed to enable a building to be heated efficiently with renewable sources, via lower flow temperature water.

The zero-emissions heat solution for the majority of buildings will be either a heat pump, district heating or shared heating. Heat pumps run much more efficiently when they deliver lower flow temperature water. Running district heating at lower flow temperature could result in cost reductions of 14 billion euros a year across Europe. Buildings meeting the standard can also have their heating schedules operated flexibly at different times of the day to provide flexibility benefits to the electricity grid and cost savings to the occupiers.

This briefing draws on the recently developed Dutch home insulation standard that is designed to support households to adapt their homes in advance of the area-based phaseout of the fossil gas system, and transition to sustainable heat sources, by 2050.

解锁灵活性资源促进建筑电气化-以热泵为例

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在中国总的碳排放中,建筑运行产生的排放大概贡献了约20%,其中3/4来自于与建筑相关的用电和供热的化石燃料非直接燃烧。为了满足中国政府提出的2030碳达峰和2060碳中和目标,高比例发展可再生能源,大力开发建筑节能潜力以及电气化将是建筑领域脱碳的关键。热泵对于电力系统的贡献在于1)热泵是一种极为高效的电气化供热/制冷方式,从而减少能耗,降低排放;2)热泵可以更多地利用清洁的可再生能源发电(风电、光伏);3)由于其灵活可控的特点,可以通过低谷用电减少用电峰值负荷,以及在系统需要时提供辅助服务以增加系统的可靠性;4)减少输配电扩容和升级需要,降低所需的可再生能源投资。

我们希望进一步讨论如何更好地利用热泵,并促进热泵在提供电力系统灵活性方面的作用。要实现这一目标,需要市场和政策的共同作用,并加强电力系统改革的多个方面。本篇文章主要在结合具体案例的基础上,分两个部分为中央和地方政策制定者给出建议:热泵作为一种灵活的资源,发挥需求响应的潜力;电力和供热综合资源规划。

From laggard to leader: How Poland became Europe’s fastest-growing heat pump market

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With the war in Ukraine compelling everyone to rethink their energy strategies and focus on getting rid of Russian fossil fuel imports, while maintaining what is left from the affordability of energy supply, the go-to tactics are achieving several energy policy goals at the same time. The Polish heat pump sector seems to be doing just that.

It is showing the fastest growth rate for heat pumps in Europe in 2021 with an expansion of the market by 66% overall—more than 90,000 units installed reaching a total of more than 330,000 units. Per capita, more heat pumps were installed last year than in other key emerging heat pump markets, such as Germany and the United Kingdom.

But this has not always been the case. For years Poland prided itself on being one of the most energy independent countries in Europe. Its coal mining sector and coal-fueled power plants provided carbon-intensive, but domestic, energy—both for heating and electricity.

Coal Dependent

Even now, with the recent growth of renewables making quite a dent in Polish coal reliance, the share of coal in electricity production and district heating is around 70%. In individual home heating, it is around 48%. Poles consume as much as 87% of the coal burned by all EU households in their homes for heating. The heating sector is responsible for nearly a quarter of CO2 emissions in Poland.

This reliance, however, has been proving less and less sustainable for a number of reasons — especially in the individual heating sector. First of all, the energy independence narrative no longer holds. Polish coal mines are notoriously labour-inefficient, but a bigger problem is that they become less and less economical to run for sheer geological reasons. The average depth of extraction is now close to 800 metres below ground, which brings immense cost—both economical and human.

Time has seen a steady decline in coal mining output, especially for the coal sorts used by individual boilers are in shorter supply. This has been replaced by imported coal mainly from Russia. Poland is currently buying €0.5-1 billion worth of Russian coal each year to heat its houses.

Even if we put aside the acute air quality problems that burning coal in old individual coal furnaces brings—which we should not as the list of 20 most polluted cities in Europe constantly features at least 10 Polish cities—this should be enough in the current circumstances to warrant a huge public policy shift directed at eliminating coal from individual heating altogether.

The preferable way of doing so would be a massive deployment of heat pumps and energy efficiency programmes whilst continuing to utilise more renewables for electricity generation at the same time. This would check the boxes for so many policy objectives, including increasing energy security, reducing carbon emissions and lowering long-term heating costs.

Long-Term Planning

Given Poland’s reliance on coal for heating, how did the Polish heat pump market achieve such remarkable growth? All signs point towards government policy. Through the ten-year Clean Air Programme that started in 2018, Poland will provide close to €25 billion for replacing old coal heating systems with cleaner alternatives and improve energy efficiency.

In addition to providing subsidies, many regions in Poland have begun to phase out the coal heating systems through regulation. Prior to those bans, heat pump installations rates were modest with limited growth over the years. This shows that policy can make a big difference in steering the market towards clean heating away from polluting fossil fuel heating systems.

Trust Building

The recent success is also a showcase of efficient market development by the heat pump industry association, PORT PC. Building customer and installer trust by developing and introducing industry guidelines, quality standards and certification, as well as conducting extensive training programmes, is now bearing fruit.

Further growth in the heat pump sector in Poland is expected and will need to take place in order to further replace coal heating. This can be achieved by implementing changes to the Clean Air Programme and other similar programmes designed to improve the efficiency of homes and heating systems, like the current tax breaks for investment in buildings insulation as well as the STOP SMOG programme designed to help local governments give targeted support to the poorest households.

Also, the recently announced new programme “My Heat” financed from the sale of EU ETS allowances through the Modernisation Fund and fully directed towards heat pumps, will provide additional sources of funding and hopefully build even more awareness among consumers.

Whilst the Clean Air Programme has so far promoted mostly gas boilers (over 40% of the total), the war in Ukraine has shown that natural gas will be a scarce and costly resource and should be used wisely. Heat electrification, rather than gasification, is surely the way to go.

Challenges Remain

Three challenges remain to be tackled for continued success. Firstly, for heat pumps to be most beneficial in terms of climate protection, electricity generation should continue on the pathway towards (quicker) decarbonisation.

Secondly, heat pumps should be an element of system flexibility, rather than a strain on the peak demand. For this, dynamic tariffs and smart solutions are fairly easy fixes but require regulatory intervention as well as consumer awareness and industry willingness to go the extra mile.

Thirdly, proactive measures should be taken to avoid potential supply chain disruptions and to secure enough of a skilled workforce. Poland is very well positioned in both areas, now being a highly industrialised country with excellent technical education.

Poland’s energy transition is picking up speed, and the growing heat pump market is a prime example of a policy push working with supply pull to deliver excellent results. The prospects are encouraging and there have never been more incentives to continue on this pathway.

This article previously appeared in Foresight.

The perfect fit: Shaping the Fit for 55 package to drive a climate-compatible heat pump market

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Removing fossil fuels from heating is a goal of policy makers around the world in order to decarbonise energy systems and to remove exposure to fossil fuel imports. Alongside efficiency measures, the key technology to replace fossil fuels for heating is heat pumps. In the EU, where fossil fuels — mostly gas — dominate the heating mix, rapid action on heat is needed and the share of heat from heat pumps is expected to grow at lightning speed. Heat networks, which simultaneously need to grow rapidly, are also expected to see much of the heat they transport produced from heat pumps.

This report — a collaborative effort between RAP, Agora Energiewende, CLASP, and the Global Buildings Performance Network — makes the case that the Fit for 55 package can drive a robust heat pump market in the EU, and that reform of the proposals is needed.

With decades of support given to fossil fuel heating technologies, the rapid deployment of heat pumps will need support. The report identifies the current barriers to making that happen, as well as the six areas where the Fit for 55 package can go further in supporting heat pumps at the scale needed:

  • Development of ETS 2 in the ETS directive, which would include buildings as well as transport sectors.
  • Revisions to Energy Taxation Directive to ensure electricity is always taxed lower than other fuels, which will have tax levels linked to environmental damage.
  • Recast Energy Efficiency Directive in which proposals are set to disallow energy savings from boiler installations, as well as introduce a standard for ‘efficient heating and cooling’ networks.
  • Revised Renewable Energy Directive, which includes higher targets for renewable heat use in buildings.
  • Revisions to the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, which include the need for Member States to set out policies for fossil fuel heating phaseouts by 2040 and the need for new, zero emission buildings by 2030. Revisions also include uplifts to minimum energy efficiency standards.
  • Modifications to energy labelling and ecodesign regulations for heating appliances are being reviewed and rescaled in parallel to the package.

The report also details how Member State-level policy reforms can move ahead of the Fit for 55 changes in the shorter term. These policies need to be supported by clear government heat pump strategies and joined-up heat and buildings governance. Immediate action is needed to reform heat pump policy across the EU. The Fit for 55 package provides a window of opportunity for policy change that must not be missed.

Read our two-page summary here.

Clean Heat for a Cooler Planet: Vermont’s Clean Heat Standard

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​In a presentation to the Natural Resources Council of Maine, Richard Cowart and Chris Neme discussed an innovative policy tool recently introduced in Vermont. Known as the Clean Heat Standard, it’s a promising new performance standard designed to progressively lower emissions from the heating fuel sector.