All buildings on deck for Europe’s electric journey to net zero

News Article

The current energy crisis has made one thing clear: it is time for the EU to end its addiction to imported fossil fuels and accelerate decarbonisation. Buildings are among the most fossil fuel reliant sectors in Europe, currently accounting for 55% of the EU gas demand.

With the Russian-induced gas crunch driving high energy prices, the built sector is in desperate need of rapid electrification to become more sustainable, resilient and energy independent.

This ambition is what moved Eurelectric to launch Power to Buildings: the new business platform that brings together policy makers and industry experts across Europe to spur the uptake of smart and sustainable buildings.

The building of the future is human-centric

Today there is a vast untapped potential for the power-led decarbonisation of buildings in Europe.

Schneider has quantified in its report that if electrification rates jump from 20% to 50% in easy-to-abate sectors, then oil and natural gas use could be halved by 2030. Within these sectors, buildings would account to almost half of fossil fuel demand reductions. Moreover, combining distributed generation, digital technologies and electrification of space and water heating could further reduce total energy consumption by 30% to 50% by 2030.

Costumers are not fully involved in housing decarbonisation efforts. Yet, empowering them with choices would enable them to help increase buildings’ energy efficiency, reduce energy use, boost renewables rollout, and provide demand-side response. Unlocking these benefits is possible if we shift to buildings thoughtfully designed for humans, where citizens are not just energy recipients anymore, but active parts of the overall energy system.

Consumers can transform into prosumers by adopting intelligent electric devices which allow them to interact with suppliers while providing flexibility to balance the electricity grid. The average household, however, is not often aware of such opportunity due to a lack of awareness as well as inadequate financial incentives and might be discouraged by high up-front costs.

Some might say that we have dormant flexible assets that are not receiving signals to enable flexibility and the remunerations to activate it”.

These barriers should be promptly tackled at the regulatory level if the European building stock is to achieve net-zero by 2050. The EPBD revision is one avenue for action.

Electrify from home to home, office to office and industry to industry

Decarbonisation through clean and renewable electricity needs to reach all types of buildings.

Optimistically, many clean and renewable electric technologies are also flexible and can serve anywhere from residential houses to commercial and industrial sites, district heating, and big buildings. These solutions include smart meters, heat pumps, electric vehicles and smart charging infrastructures coupled with rooftop solar panels.

Heat pumps, in particular, can be used for both heating and cooling. As cooling demand is projected to increase due to rising temperature and more frequent heat waves across Europe, finding sustainable solutions is now critical.

Their sales have registered a sharp increase in recent years, reaching 34% in 2021.

“Yet, we need to go much faster” confirms Thomas – Secretary General at EPHA ­– “We believe that we can double heat pumps sales, as required in RePowerEU, which means reaching 4,6 million heat pumps units in 2025”.

This is good news for the housing and energy sector at large since these electric appliances not only lower carbon emissions via high energy efficiency but also contribute to stabilising the power grid. In addition, customers tend to pair the installation of heat pumps with rooftop PVs, thereby supporting the increase in renewable deployment.

High demand, however, must be matched by equal supply capabilities.

There are today several supply chains bottlenecks in the industry caused by raising costs of raw materials, lack of skilled workforce and shortage of key components. These issues risk slowing down the electrification growth rate needed to meet the EU net zero targets.

Developing solutions to such challenges is a must and will be an important focus for the newly formed Power to Buildings Hub. More than 30 companies have already joined. If you are interested in driving forward the electrification of the buildings sector, visit our website and find out all the benefits available to members.