Renewable Heating and Cooling Event – A look toward industrial decarbonisation

Horizontal Working Group on Industry

Industrial decarbonisation - with a specific focus on the role of solar thermal and geothermal energy - was the focus of an October 2023 event co-hosted by EGEC and Solar Heat Europe. MEP Beatrice Covassi, co-chair of the Sustainable, Long-term Investments and Competitive European Industry Intergroup, chaired the event.

The current state of the RHC sector

Lukasz Kolinski (European Commission) provided an overview of the current state of renewable heating and cooling (RHC) technologies in Europe. Currently, the majority of RHC heat is burning biomass. However, there are additional technologies which are continuing to expand. Heat pumps should be deployed on a much larger scale, and some sectors such as geothermal energy are not strong in the sector but do show great potential for growth. These sectors will need to grow – Mr. Kolinski stressed that the overall renewable energy target of the revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED) was “ambitious” and could “not be cost-effectively fulfilled without a much stronger contribution of the RHC industry.”

The RED is not the only legislation that will need to strengthen RHC technologies: the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), and Net Zero Industry Act (NZIA) will all incorporate RHC systems to boost performance and strengthen industry. District heating measures are one way of coupling sectors and increasing effectiveness; horizonal measures such as permitting would also help in making sure procedures go ahead quickly. What is essential, however, is maintaining an EU supply chain/value chain and thereby boost manufacturing. Member States are now responsible for implementing measures approved by the EU and transform legislation into action – this will be monitored through individual NECPs.

Afterwards, the event continued with presentations and a question and answer session of a panel consisting of MEP Covassi, Adele Manzella (Researcher, CNR-IGG), Gianni Vanneste (Group Energy Optimisation Manager, Boortmalt Group), Hugh Defréville (CEO and Co-founder, Newheat), Pedro Dias (Policy Director, Solar Heat Europe), and Sanjeev Kumar (Head of Policy, EGEC).

Use case: Geothermal energy in Tuscany

Adele Manzella presented a case study of geothermal technology in Tuscany. There are 34 geothermal power plants in Tuscany which supply 6 TWh/year – this equates to 2% of the national electricity consumption or 5.8% of the national production of RES. These power plants are primarily used for agriculture and food processing, and to store heat underground. For continued expansion of geothermal energy, there is a need for a “European Geothermal Strategy” to accommodate the rapidly growing interest for geothermal energy to heat and cool buildings.

Use case: Solar thermal energy in Belgium

Gianni Vanneste and Hugh Defréville presented another case study – solar thermal energy in the agrifood sector. The Boortmalt Group is a malt producer based in Antwerp which looked towards decarbonization methods to fulfill heating needs which reducing emissions by 50% and water by 30%. Several methods were used to decarbonize Boortmalt: heat loops with a local incinerator and the city of Antwerp to utilize waste heat, solar thermal, and geothermal energies. The French company Newheat worked with Boortmalt in designing and installing the large-scale solar thermal system. The system, which has now been running for three years, was the largest solar thermal installation in Europe at the time of installation.

Across the evening's discussions, a major theme was bringing geothermal and solar thermal energies more to the forefront of policy discussions. Both technologies lack visibility on a national or international scale; it is often local actors rather than national governments who support implementation of such systems. Only now are governments realizing the extent of Europe’s need to decarbonize faster. The signals for renewable heat are there, but they must be supported through policy actions, including binding targets for RHC and indicative targets for industry.