Connecting the dots to enable climate leadership at all levels

Lars Tveen, President of Danfoss Heating Segment, underlines the importance of connecting the dots to enable climate leadership at all levels. Please note that this article was originally published by Open Access Government, here

    We are running out of time to achieve the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (°C) and need urgent and ambitious climate leadership. We are up against the climate clock and with the best technology available, we need to start implementing today.   There is a growing body of evidence that there is huge potential in energy efficiency. We do not want energy efficiency for itself. It is a means to many of our ends. It makes our economies more competitive; it creates jobs. People who live in energy-efficient homes are healthier. Children who study in energy-efficient schools have better learning. People who work in energy-efficient buildings are more productive. Capturing all these benefits of energy efficiency is our real goal.  

Energy efficiency actions

The most cost-efficient, sustainable, and secure form of energy is the one that is not needed to begin with. Energy efficiency actions have the potential to account for a 44% share of the GHG reduction needed by 2040 (1) – making it the single largest contributor in delivering net-zero ambition, and the most cost-effective one, too. Therefore, energy efficiency must be the starting point. Accelerating the uptake of energy efficiency and renewable energy in the global energy mix is the single biggest contribution to keep the global temperature rise under 2°C and to reap the multiple benefits of an inclusive green economy. By 2030, cities will consume 60-80% of energy resources. Looking at Europe alone, heating in buildings accounts for 30% of total energy consumption. In addition, cities are responsible for 70% of global emissions.   Any solution for the climate and energy transition must explicitly address sustainable urban heating and cooling, as well as electricity. One of the least-cost and most efficient solutions in reducing emissions and primary energy demand is the development of modern (climate-resilient and low-carbon) district energy networks in cities. Cities are central to this effort, and it is crucial that we continue to enable our cities to address and solve climate challenges.  

Efficient energy systems

There are unique opportunities in cities to create efficient energy systems and use synergies between sectors. That is why, to meet their ambitious climate targets, cities need to transform their energy systems. And at the core of this transformation is the integration of different sectors into one smart and efficient energy system. The coupling of heating, cooling and electricity, in particular, can speed up decarbonisation in a cost-effective way.   The good news is that the technologies to accelerate the decarbonisation already exist. And by fast-tracking the adoption of these innovative and proven solutions in cities, we can accelerate the low-carbon development and lead the way to climate neutrality by 2050. Not only in Europe, but globally.  

Technologies to accelerate decarbonisation

District energy is proven to be economically and environmentally advantageous and to hold significant and untapped potential to fast-tracking decarbonisation. District energy networks can distribute heat and cold from sustainable sources within a city or municipality and balance the electricity system. In fact, today’s modern, fourth-generation district energy systems, act as a flexible energy infrastructure where locally available energy sources can be “plugged in” – be they geothermal, solar thermal, waste heat or large-scale heat pumps.   And by integrating buildings into such an infrastructure, they can take a much more active role in the energy system. For example, by using their thermal mass to provide energy storage or feeding energy they do not need to go back to the grid.   Many cities in Europe – from Paris over Berlin to Warsaw – are also using district energy for higher energy efficiency, stability in the network, and cutting air pollution.   However, the share of district energy today is far from where it should be if we want to use its full potential to fast-track a cost-effective energy transition. In Europe alone, the share of district energy could increase from today’s 12% average to 50%. By unleashing this potential, we can improve energy efficiency, reduce emissions and integrate higher shares of volatile renewable energy. And all this at a lower cost compared to scenarios without district energy.  

Climate leadership for a fast and cost-effective transition

City networks such as C40, Euro Cities and Celsius, are doing a great job in sharing best practices and taking the lead in ambitious climate action. Their contribution is significant, and we support it. But they cannot go it alone – we need ambitious climate action across all levels of government which should be matched in the European Union’s legislative framework.   What we need now is a policy framework that facilitates the adoption of the available technology. A policy that connects the dots across the entire heating and cooling value chain. And that takes a systematic approach across sectors, energy carriers, costs and security of supply.   A new report from Aalborg University in Denmark sets the vision and concrete pathway for decarbonizing the European heating and cooling sector by 2050, based on the significant potential of district energy and energy efficiency in Europe. Findings and insights from the survey conclude that countries with no or very low shares of district heating today, such as the United Kingdom, must start establishing systems as soon as possible. A good approach is to start with low-cost heat sources in areas with high demand, where the business case for district heating is best. These business cases should, however, include strategies for further expansion.   These countries will need to develop heat regulation, planning and frameworks for developing district heating supply. It is important to consider ownership models, competition among heating sources, pricing and investments. Where district heating is set to compete against other supply options, it is important to make sure they do so on equal terms. It is important to allow local, municipal or collective ownership of the district heating grids and distribution infrastructure. This should be treated as the countries also treat electricity, gas or water distribution infrastructure.   At the same time as establishing district heating networks, building stock renovations must be carried out, including the optimisation of control systems. If they are carried out at the same time as new district heating networks are built, the full energy value chain benefits can be exploited. This is how we connect the dots.  
  1. IEA, Energy Efficiency Market Report, 2018