EU publishes clean energy policy package for heating, cooling

By Katie Fletcher | December 01, 2016

This week, the European Commission released a package of policy proposals aimed at boosting the EU’s competitiveness as the world transitions to a clean energy mix. The ECs “Clean Energy for All Europeans” legislative proposals cover energy efficiency, renewable energy, the design of the electricity market, security of electricity supply and governance rules for the EU.

U.K.-based Renewable Energy Association and European Biomass Association (AEBIOM) both believe the package is an important step for the EU bioenergy industry, but also express concerns over various aspects of the clean energy package.

EU-harmonized legislation on sustainability criteria for all bioenergy uses has been in discussion at the EC for years. AEBIOM stated that this represents a major outcome for the entire European renewables industry and for the EU’s climate and energy targets, as bioenergy represents 60 percent of all European renewable energy consumption. Among the crucial aspects within the package, EC proposed sustainability requirements for installations over 20 MW capacity, endorsing a risk-based approach for forest biomass and allowing the possibility to recognize voluntary schemes.

In addition, the EC decided to use a rational land-based sustainability approach per type of biomass, including biomass from forestry, agriculture, etc., and not per energy use. “As wood can be used to make biofuels or produce heat and electricity, the commission’s approach addressing sustainability of forest biomass, whatever its energy end use, makes sense,” stated Didzis Palejs, president of AEBIOM.

Even so, AEBIOM expressed concern that this approach has not been followed for defining a single GHG emissions savings for all bioenergy. The Energy Efficiency Directive currently does not specify which sources and technologies are eligible to meet its energy efficiency targets. “The lack of eligibility criteria under the energy efficiency legislation is a missed opportunity to increase transparency of EU legislation and ensure climate change objectives are met,” said Philippe Dumas, secretary general of the European Geothermal Energy Council. “We now urge member states and the EU Parliament to accelerate the phase-out of even condensing heating oil and coal boilers and start the phase-down of gas-boilers with a 2050 perspective.”

According to AEBIOM, until now, this loophole has allowed half of the EU member states to subsidize more efficient fossil fuel heating technology. “Even if more efficient than the old ones, new oil boilers can continue to burn oil well beyond 2050. And this is not compatible with the EU long-term objectives,” said Thomas Nowak, secretary general of the European Heat Pump Association. “Solutions that are not “2050 ready” should not be promoted anymore. Instead, renewable and highly efficient solutions must be phased-in fast. The industry is ready for this but requests clearer goals.”

AEBIOM believes the revised Renewable Energy Directive attempts to promote a fuel switch in the heating and cooling sector, such as minimum share of renewables in nearly zero energy buildings. However, it identified that the package is a missed opportunity to develop different renewable sources of energy, including those capable of decarbonizing the heating and cooling sector, such as geothermal, solar thermal, biomass and efficient heat pumps.

According to REA, this proposed winter energy package is also of importance to the U.K., despite the referendum vote to leave the EU in June, as many of the laws proposed may be transferred over to U.K. legislation in the proposed Great Repeal Bill.

“We welcome this winter package as it will support the U.K.’s movement towards a more flexible, decentralized and lower-cost energy system,” said James Court, head of policy at REA. “While the U.K. is leaving the European Union, policies such as these remain very important as they may be transferred into domestic law as part of the ‘Great Repeal Bill’.”

Amongst current proposals are plans to introduce an EU-level binding energy efficiency target of 30 percent by 2030, as well as a number of amendments targeted at increasing energy performance in buildings, improving energy labeling and expanding access to finance for such initiatives. The EC has opted not to propose binding national renewable energy targets, but will introduce an EU-level target of 27 percent renewable energy by 2030. This is in addition to the EU’s already established commitment to reduce overall GHG emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2030.

According to the REA, several of the measures in the energy package are relevant for the U.K. “The EC’s encouraging of member states to improve the ability of market participants to trade electricity closer to the time of its delivery is a topic presently being explored by the Government in Westminster and would help increase grid flexibility,” REA stated in a release.

However, AEBIOM did not share quite the same view as the REA when it came to giving flexibility to member states in defining additional sustainability rules. AEBIOM countered that the commission’s proposal may not set an equal playing field for the whole sector. “I am very concerned that a lack of full harmonization at EU level could hamper biomass trade and lead to unequal treatment among economic operators,” said Eric Vial, president of the European Pellet Council.

Overall, the REA welcomed the package but found issues with several aspects, particularly those relating to the proposed bioenergy regulations. REA stated that an uptake in electric vehicle charge points and increased use of biofuels corresponds to the Department for Transport’s consultation on renewable fuels released this week.

Additionally, according to Court, REA supports the amendments on biomass sustainability, but is unsatisfied with the EC seeking to enforce a rule that all new biomass plants utilize combined-heat-and-power (CHP) technology, as there is a host of efficient and sustainable power projects proposed that this may constrain, including potential biomass with carbon capture and storage projects. “It seems disproportionate that sustainable bioenergy would be subject to such a rule when unsustainable fossil fuels are not,” Court said.

Another issue REA identified was in regards to the proposals around reducing the crop-based content of biofuels, as they already face tough domestic sustainability criteria and scrutiny coming from civil service leadership in London. REA emphasized that biofuels have an important role to play in reducing transport emissions as the vehicle fleet is electrified and home-grown bioethanol industry produces a nutritious animal feed in addition to a low-carbon fuel.

In regards to biopower, AEBIOM noted that the political rationale to account it toward the EU renewable energy target only if produced through high efficient cogeneration technology. However, the association believes this approach ignores the role that biopower could play to back up intermittent renewable electricity sources like wind and solar. “One can fear that it could open a backdoor to fossil fuels, in contradiction with EU decarbonization objectives and commitments,” AEBIOM stated in its recent release.

All documents on the clean energy package can be accessed here.