MILAN -- Long after the Iron Curtain was lifted, Europe's ex-Soviet nations often remain reliant on combined heat and power (CHP) plants feeding district heating schemes for which renewables could make an attractive fuel source.
A legacy of centralized economic planning guided by the objective of providing universal access to housing and utilities, district heating (DH) traditionally played the starring role in urban heating systems in the planned economies behind the Iron Curtain.
The first Soviet electrification plan of 1920 and successive five-year plans emphasized cogeneration and waste heat recycling from turbine steam for district heating of urban residential areas and industrial facilities. Fuel savings at electric power stations — the major producer of waste heat — were an important performance indicator for the Soviet Ministry of Power and Electrification.
With a domestic oil economy devastated by its civil conflict, many of Russia's first power plants used peat for lack of alternatives. But growing urbanization and the development of the oil and gas industry after World War II led to the dominance of fossil fuels for DH across the communist bloc.
With the transition to market economies after the collapse of the Soviet system, these same countries, some of which have since joined the E.U., must grapple with the task of modernizing these networks without neglecting ambitious environmental targets amid difficult economic times and rising energy prices.
Euroheat and Power — the European industry association for the CHP and district heating and cooling sectors — estimates in its 2011 survey that in 2009 the share of citizens served by DH totalled 64 per cent in Latvia, 60 percent in Lithuania, 53 per cent in Estonia, 50 percent in Poland, 41 percent in Slovakia, 38 per cent in the Czech Republic, 23 percent in Romania, 17 percent in Slovenia and 10 percent in Croatia.
The share of recycled heat in these systems ranges from a high of 92 percent for Romania to a low of 38 percent in Slovakia and Estonia. Recycled heat is defined as: CHP including from combustible renewables; waste-to-energy plants; industrial processes independent of the fuel used for the primary process; and two thirds of the energy delivered by heat pumps.
Cogeneration is less common in Estonia since most of its electricity came from oil shale plants concentrated in one region. Meanwhile Russia's DH system boasts a trench length for the pipeline system of some 173,000 km.
Direct use of renewables — in heat-only boilers and non CHP installations — ranges from a high of around 14 percent in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to 2 percent or less in the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and Slovenia.
In the E.U. 27 the share of recycled heat in DH increased from 70 percent in 1990 to 80 percent in 2006, with most from the “others” category. The share derived directly from renewables increased negligibly. In Germany, which along with Poland is the biggest DH market within the E.U., the share of recycled heat is 89.5 percent (mainly from coal, oil and natural gas with 10 percent from combustible renewables and waste).
From Euroheat's perspective, a modern DH system should be based on capturing waste heat and phase out the direct use of fossil fuels for heating. Johannes Jungbauer, of the European Affairs Office for Euroheat, emphasises that fuel source is not an accurate indicator of energy efficiency. Cogeneration increases the efficiency of primary fuels substantially in comparison to condensing power production and heat-only boilers.
Europe pushes for energy efficiency
With the E.U. seen as trailing in its goal of reducing primary energy consumption by 20 per cent by 2020, and heat losses from the E.U.-wide energy system estimated as high as 50 percent, energy efficiency is now at the heart of E.U. policy. In July 2012, the E.U. Parliament's Energy Committee unanimously voted in a new Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), repealing Directives 2004/8/EC and 2006/32/EC and enshrining the 20 percent efficiency target in law by stipulating mandatory measures (e.g., renovating public buildings and energy-saving schemes for utilities).
Member States must complete a “comprehensive assessment” by December 2015 of the potential of high-efficiency cogeneration and efficient district heating/cooling, set their own targets and present national efficiency action plans in 2014, 2017 and 2020.
DH offers several benefits over decentralized heating in areas of high heat load density. But the exact efficiency and environmental benefits depend on the fuel source, technical characteristics of the heat distribution system and boiler plants in addition to the institutional market structure. Unlike building-level boilers, DH enables fuel switching and can run on a wider variety of fuels, such as coal, oil, natural gas, municipal or industrial waste, geothermal, peat and biomass.
Euroheat emphasizes heating's contribution, and particularly the recuperation of waste heat to achieving energy efficiency targets: 40 percent of the E.U.'s final energy demand is for heating (space, water and low temperature industrial processes) and largely met through imported fuels or low-efficiency electricity. If progress in achieving the 2020 targets is found insufficient in a 2014 review, national energy efficiency targets will be proposed. The plenary vote on the EED is scheduled for September.
“Of course we appreciate it,' says Jungbauer, of the EED, 'but we were hoping for more. Article 10, which includes an energy efficiency obligation scheme, has been watered down and could have been stronger.” As he describes it, results will depend on how Member States choose to implement the directive: “The EED raises awareness but there are a lot of ‘shalls’ and ‘shoulds’ in the text.”
Poland aims for cleaner power
For the E.U.'s largest coal producer — Poland — where domestic hard coal accounts for around 74 per cent of energy production, meeting the E.U.'s 2020 goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 20 percent will be particularly challenging and further complicated by the E.U.'s 2011 Industrial Emissions Directive which necessitates investment to reduce particulates and SOx/NOx emissions. In 2013 the “white certificates” scheme for emissions trading will be introduced to ensure that energy companies meet their energy efficiency obligations.
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