Waking a ‘Sleeping Giant’

The newly launched European Technology Platform on Renewable Heating & Cooling (RHC-Platform) brings together industry, research and policy stakeholders from the biomass, geothermal and solar thermal sectors to determine a common strategy for significantly increasing the use of renewable energy technologies in heating and cooling.

Indeed, it is only relatively recently that heating and cooling has been identified as the third pillar of energy demand, alongside transport and electricity production. This is despite the fact that heating and cooling accounts for half of Europe’s total final energy demand.

Aiming to identify the research and development requirements for the sector, the RHC-Platform is designed to set the priorities in terms of technologies that will ultimately allow Europe to meet its heating and cooling demand only from renewable resources by 2030, or at the latest by 2050.

The move follows the 2005 launch of the European Solar Thermal Technology Platform (ESTTP), an initiative led by ESTIF and EUREC Agency that culminated in the publication of the Solar Thermal Strategic Research Agenda in December 2008. Subsequently, the European Commission encouraged the industries related to renewable heating and cooling to join forces in a common technology platform and the ESTTP structure is now incorporated into the RHC-Platform, which is again led by ESTIF and EUREC Agency.

Along with those two partners, two other major European organisations – AEBIOM and EGEC – are spearheading the development of a common vision and a Strategic Research Agenda for the renewable heating and cooling sector in Europe as part of a strategy to awaken this ‘sleeping giant’. Chair and president, Gerhard Stryi-Hipp of the Fraunhofer ISE, explains that the RHC-Platform starts from a position of considering the role of renewable heating and cooling in 2030 and identifying the issues that must be addressed in order to achieve this. Areas of interest include low-cost volume manufacturing, new applications such as renewable process heating, heat storage technologies and the potential for solar energy to provide all heating and cooling for buildings.

Consequently the RHC-Platform, officially endorsed by the European Commission since October 2008, aims to play a key role in strengthening efforts in identifying areas for research, development and technological innovation which will consolidate Europe’s position in the renewable heating and cooling sector. This vision will constitute a reference document for European and national public authorities when shaping future support policies.

The RHC-Platform consists of four technology panels – one for each of the three renewable energy sources for heating & cooling and a fourth dedicated to cross cutting technologies. Acting under the guidance of the respective Steering Committees, each panel is responsible for collecting and developing the stakeholders’ inputs from the different sectors.

At the highest level, the RHC-Platform Board leads the process towards the definition of a common Vision and Strategic Research Agenda for the entire renewable heating and cooling sector in Europe, although ad hoc horizontal working groups on market and policy topics will also contribute to the achievement of the RHC-Platform’s objective.

According to Stryi-Hipp, final documentation from the RHC-Platform is anticipated towards the end of 2011, though there is some uncertainty here. There is inevitably much work to do, particularly relating to biomass, although the deep geothermal sector has already produced a first draft, Stryi-Hipp says. However, Stryi-Hipp also stresses that in parallel with the RHC-Platform ESTIF and other agencies are working with the European Commission to identify opportunities for R&D and the group plans to lobby the European Commission as well as other politicians to identify targets for R&D while securing funding.

‘A key objective’, says Stryi-Hipp, ‘is to see better integration of renewable heating and cooling into the European R&D and policy agenda.’ As an example he points to the 2007 European Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan towards a low carbon future which did not explicitly refer to renewable heating and cooling. ‘It is very important to make clear to politicians the heating and cooling is responsible for more than 50% of energy demand’, Stryi-Hipp says, adding: ‘The RHC-Platform is the instrument to identify the possibilities for renewable heating and cooling. However’, he concludes, ‘we don’t just want acceptance, we also want more money to support R&D.’

Participation in the RHC-Platform is free. Research and industry players involved may gain valuable insights into leading technologies and a unique chance to influence the evolution of the sector’s R&D.

— David Appleyard

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