On 8 July, the European Commission (EC) released two complementary strategies on Energy System Integration and Hydrogen. The strategies represent a first step in fostering system integration on the path to carbon neutrality by 2050. Yet, more needs to be done to boost investments in integration solutions like cogeneration. To achieve this, COGEN Europe calls for an ambitious policy framework to foster energy efficiency across an increasingly integrated energy value chain and infrastructure, for all energy carriers and fuels, while linking electricity, heat and gas systems.
In the System Integration Strategy, the EC renewed its commitment to “energy efficiency first” across the entire energy value chain. The EC’s vision also stresses the importance of end-use and system-level electrification across all sectors of the economy. Yet, the missing link in the two strategies is the critical role of cogeneration, including stationary fuel cells solutions, in delivering efficiency and flexibility to buildings, industry and local communities, while bringing together electricity, heat and gas.
Efficiency should be a key criterion when promoting end-use electrification in heating. Admittedly, the System Integration Strategy expects electricity to be increasingly used in efficient heat pumps installed in increasingly well insulated buildings. Yet, the Strategy does not fully acknowledge that the additional demand from end-use electrification would create significantly higher peak demand in winter. That is where cogeneration steps in.
By supplying flexible and efficient electricity when the grids need it, during peak demand or at times of low wind and sun supply, cogeneration enables efficient system integration at local level. It complements end-use electrification by ensuring that electricity supplies to end use sectors are always available and efficient, as shown by Hadjberg School in Denmark1. Moreover, cogeneration can complement the uptake of electric vehicles, enabling consumers to efficiently produce electricity to charge their cars or other power loads nearby – the stationary fuel cells are particularly tailored for such applications2.
As European countries move away from solid fossil fuels and increasingly towards lower carbon and renewable fuels, including hydrogen, it is paramount that we use these valuable fuels and carriers as efficiently as possible. With cogeneration, the use of renewable and decarbonised gases is maximised, reducing energy waste and freeing some of these new fuels for applications which need them. By implementing energy efficiency first and local integrated planning, the city of Hassfurt is bringing together the best of renewable energy, district heating, cogeneration, batteries, biogas and hydrogen. This should serve as a template for the unlimited options and diversity of local system integration models3.
As highlighted in the EC’s Strategy, a more integrated energy system should also encourage the use of waste heat. In addition, further legislation and more ambitious implementation is needed to reduce the wastage of heat to start with, which can be done by maximising the potential of cogeneration4.
Cogeneration already delivers value to domestic consumers, small and medium enterprises, industry and districts. Yet, its benefits are scattered across un-integrated markets, value chains and fragmented policy tools. The system integration strategy is an opportunity to remove barriers impeding cogeneration growth and unlock a more efficient, flexible, reliable and carbon neutral European economy by 2050.