As the European Union (EU) embarks on an ambitious decarbonisation journey in the framework of the European Green Deal, the buildings sector has an important contribution to make towards reaching energy and climate objectives. In 2020, the European Commission presented its Renovation Wave strategy, which aims to improve the energy performance of buildings and to promote the decarbonisation of heating and cooling. In this context, Fuel Cell micro-CHP is one of the key energy solutions which can enable the decarbonisation of buildings, while contributing to a more efficient, consumer-centred and resilient energy system.
Buildings represent a huge part of Europe’s energy use, accounting for 40% of energy consumption and 36% of greenhouse gas emissions. More than 70% of energy consumption in buildings is associated with heating, cooling and hot water demand. Therefore, reducing emissions from buildings will require significant improvements in energy efficiency as well as supporting the use of renewable energy sources for heating and cooling.
The diversity of the European building stock, as well as the wide variety of local circumstances and climatic conditions, mean that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. Instead, we need to develop tailored solutions that meet the specific needs of each building. This requires a combination of well-trained professionals with up-to-date knowledge, consumer-centred advisory services, and integrated planning processes and policies at the local, regional and national levels.
While we can see a clear trend towards electrification, including the increased uptake of heat pumps and electric vehicles, there is also a need for greater energy efficiency as well as flexible generation and smart technologies like ‘demand response’ that are deployed locally near the consumer – to ensure a better matching of supply and demand both short term as well as inter-seasonally. Various technologies will have different roles to play in lowering emissions and supporting the uptake of renewables in an efficient and affordable way.
The Role of Fuel Cell micro-CHP
Micro-CHP solutions are now available on the market and can be installed in up to 25% of existing buildings1, as part of a cost-effective pathway to a carbon neutral EU by 2050. Stationary Fuel Cells are a proven technology that can reduce energy consumption, carbon emissions and local air pollution.
Stationary Fuel Cells are one of the highly efficient alternatives to a gas boiler. The fuel cell itself converts H2 into electrical power, heat and water, achieving total efficiencies above 95% and electrical efficiencies of up to 60%. With a fuel cell, you have your own power plant in the basement, while also producing heat and hot water for your home.
While most of the currently installed systems use methane from the gas grid to produce hydrogen, it would also be possible for the Fuel Cell units to run directly on hydrogen from renewable sources, in which case – no carbon dioxide (CO2) would be emitted. Alternatively, they could also obtain hydrogen from biomethane or synthetic gases2.
The deployment of Stationary fuel cell units transforms Europeans from energy consumers into energy prosumers, putting them at the centre of a decentralised and more resilient energy system3. Stationary fuel cells represent a valuable source of local power generation that can help to deal with periods of high electricity demand and complement intermittent renewable sources of power such as solar panels (PV) and wind turbines.
Ambitious policy for green buildings
Industry, local authorities, energy communities and consumers are committed to an energy transition that brings together a wide range of technologies – including fuel cell micro-CHP as a suitable energy solution to boost efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from buildings4. Moreover, the EU Climate Taxonomy Framework recognises micro-CHP as a key renewable energy solution to decarbonise buildings along, PV and heat pumps5.
As policymakers in the EU institutions continue to discuss legislation in the framework of the European Green Deal and ‘Fit for 55’, REPowerEU and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, the micro-CHP sector is calling for high ambition on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and energy systems integration.
To fully reap the benefits of micro-CHP, European and national legislation must:
- Put energy efficiency first across the entire energy system, from generation to transmission, distribution and consumption.
- Take an integrated approach to energy systems, by optimising clean energy deployment across electricity, heat and gas networks. In this respect, buildings must be considered as active contributors to the overall energy system.
- Foster all renewable energy sources and their efficient use for the affordable and secure supply of heat and power to buildings.
- Support flexible generation in buildings to relieve strain on power grids, as consumption electrifies and variable renewables like solar (PV) and wind are scaled up.
- Mobilise financial support schemes to empower consumers in choosing the best available clean energy solutions for their homes and businesses.
Article by Alexandra Tudoroiu-Lakavičė – Head of Policy, COGEN Europe
1. ‘Towards an efficient, integrated and cost-effective net-zero energy system in 2050 – The role of cogeneration’ study by Artelys for COGEN Europe
2. The benefits of Fuel Cell micro-Cogeneration (PACE website)
3. Stories from PACE end-users (PACE website)
4. Joint Declaration on Stationary Fuel Cells for Green Buildings (PACE website)
5. See Section 7.6 on “Installation, maintenance and repair of renewable energy technologies” in the Delegated act on sustainable activities for climate change adaptation and mitigation objectives – published by the European Commission on 4 June 2021