FORESIGHT Climate & Energy 08

The path lawmakers must take

A decarbonised heating and cooling system is vital for the energy transition, but fossil fuels remain the sector’s dominant energy source globally. The technologies exist to switch heating and cooling to clean sources of energy, and work by Heat Roadmap Europe and others shows the way forward. Progress in that transition is slow, however, with poor policy to blame. It is high time lawmakers stepped up to the plate. They must enforce existing laws, create new rules to fill regulatory gaps and introduce investment mechanisms for a timely and cost-effective turnaround in the heating and cooling sector.

Change means phasing out oil and replacing coal generation in district energy systems with solar thermal energy, wind energy, direct geothermal heat, waste heat and large heat pumps. It also means extending and building new district heat networks, and massively increasing the use of heat pumps in buildings, especially outside dense urban areas. Data and planning at a local, regional and national level are key to finding the best solutions for different geographies, as is the spreading of best practice to avoid time wasting.

The energy transition in the heating and cooling sector requires upfront capital investment. Just as the UK and the Netherlands introduced ambitious strategies to hook up virtually every household to mains gas in the 1960s, the same approach must be adopted if renewable energies are to warm our homes and offices instead of fossil fuel boilers. Lawmakers need to be guided by infrastructure investments in line with the Paris climate agreement.

Local ownership of heating and cooling networks, their development encouraged by low interest rate public loans and national subsidies, could be one solution to speed up the transition and boost trust in these systems.

But technology, infrastructure and cleaner energy can only go so far. Architecture and town planning are vital considerations for decarbonised heating and cooling. Buildings must be properly insulated and the right incentives offered to make this affordable and available for everybody.

The penchant for glass and steel towers without share or greenery is a disaster for energy efficiency in a warming world. Traditional building techniques should be combined with twenty-first century innovation to create homes and offices that are highly efficient and keep their occupants at the right temperature without heating or cooling peaks. Powering air conditioning units with renewable energy will reduce their carbon footprint, as will efficiency standards and better installation, but better still are cooling solutions that do not require energy.

Modern life is dependent on ambient indoor temperatures that are neither too hot nor too cold. But achieving the right temperature should not be at the expense of the climate.

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