Cogeneration: Putting Europe on the Road to Paris

This contribution was authored by COGEN Europe.

We are in the midst of profound transformation of the energy system, as EU and national efforts are geared towards ensuring that Europe has secure, affordable and climate-friendly energy. It is clear today that business as usual is not a choice, if Europe wants to take the lead in realising the Paris Agreement objectives. Unidimensional and siloed solutions may get us to the destination, but will fall short of delivering affordable and secure energy to Europe’s citizens and industry. Only an integrated approach to the energy system and a mix of energy efficiency and renewable energy promises to provide the right balance between ambition, cost and security of supply.

One of the solutions that can help us on our way to meet the Paris Agreement goals is combined heat and power, or cogeneration.

Cogeneration generates heat and electricity simultaneously from a single energy source, saving precious energy compared with the separate generation of heat and power. In a conventional power plant, on average, only 40 percent of the energy input is transformed into useful energy (electricity), meaning that about 60 percent is lost in the form of heat into the atmosphere. State-of-the-art cogeneration plants can reach efficiencies up to 90 percent, saving energy and decreasing drastically emissions.

To reach the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement, the first step is to stop wasting energy. The EU project Heat Roadmap Europe estimates that there is more heat wasted during electricity generation in Europe than is required to heat all buildings on our continent. Reducing energy demand of industry and buildings through end-use efficiency measures will only take us halfway. It is also paramount to reduce energy waste in the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity. And this is exactly what cogeneration does.

A greater use of renewable energy will also be required. The cogeneration sector has started to contribute and there is great potential to do even more in the years to come. Over the past decade, the share of renewable fuels more than doubled from nine percent in 2005 to 21 percent in 2015. Should the policy framework foster bioenergy use in cogeneration, 33 percent of cogeneration fuels could be renewable by 2030. A key benefit is that cogeneration supplies dispatchable electricity, that can help compensate whenever the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining enough to meet the increasing electricity demand. In addition, cogeneration produces electricity and heat close to the point of demand. This reduces the need for a grid upgrade. In doing so, cogeneration brings stability to the electricity system and reduces overall energy systems costs, a great benefit for the energy consumer. Cogeneration will also play a major role in integrating the renewable fuels of the future, such as biogas and hydrogen, maximising the use of these scarce resources. Cogeneration will therefore be a key enabler of an energy system running on an important share of renewable energy whether variable or dispatchable.

Today, cogeneration generates 11 percent of all electricity and 15 percent of all heat in Europe. This saves Europe 200 million tonnes of CO2 on an annual basis. By 2030, cogeneration has the potential to nearly double these numbers and produce 20 percent of all electricity and 25 percent of all heat in Europe. This would mean an additional 350 million tonnes of CO2 saved. The potential is huge, yet it needs to be realised. Ambitious supportive policies are part of the measures needed to achieve this.

If you want to find out more on cogeneration will constitute the backbone of the future energy system, do not miss COGEN Europe’s Annual Conference and Gala Awards Dinner "The Power of Heat" on 5-6 June 2018 in Hotel Steigenberger in Brussels. Visit “The Power of Heat” website to check out the full programme and to register.

For more information, check out one of #EUSEW18 side events by COGEN Europe