Following nearly four years of negotiations, the mechanisms of the EU’s governing bodies have settled a deal on renewable energy targets. EU countries must have 32% renewable energy by 2030, as reported by the European Commission. Furthermore, there is potential for that figure to be upscaled in 2023, putting further pressure on national authorities.
With businesses threatened by climate change and extreme weather events becoming less ‘extreme’ and more the norm, it is perhaps in the general interest of society to tackle climate change. How businesses and governments respond will provide the tools necessary to effect this change; change will not happen without clear benefits outlined. With households contributing 25.6% of total EU energy consumption, according to the EC, finding innovation to reduce emissions will be key.
The continuing role of fossil fuels
The ultimate outcome of climate change technology is an entirely renewable system, in which energy is produced efficiently and without the need for expending fossil fuels. While this is an idealized situation, it cannot be implemented in any short order in Europe. According to EC analysis, 20% of all gas consumption goes towards household heating, a huge outlay. As a stopgap, there has been an increasing move towards gas, as evidenced by Gazprom’s 600m m2/day gas supply to Europe. However, this is clearly not sustainable.
A further stopgap has been pursued by the EU and gas lobbies to utilize clean gas such as ethanol and methane. In-country, this is matched by subsidies by many governments towards producers of household goods, such as heating and water systems, favoring clean gas sources. While gas is not inherently sustainable or clean, as its collection relies on gas that has already been bound for emission – such as that from landfill – it has a much lower net carbon effect than burning fossil fuels. This has been reflected by the supplier choice provided in the EU. To take the example of Britain, suppliers SSE and Bulb now promote their clean gas as a selling point. In energy terms, EU citizens are becoming increasingly enabled to help the union meet its targets.
The next steps for sustainable heating
Clean gas is a useful stopgap in the journey towards heating independence. The next step is eschewing gas entirely and minimising its production to small, local-scale projects. High among these methods is nuclear; while not entirely renewable, France has largely relied on its power to help keep the country heated. There will also be a lot of opportunity in solar.
The effects of climate change are beginning to be felt in Europe; a 2017 University of Birmingham study found that European temperature increases follow projections and this has been represented in droughts across the continent, with increased sunny days. However, this also presents a unique opportunity in the form of solar power, already well integrated in Spain which produces 33% of its energy from solar, according to analysts. There is clear potential for countries to find more energy from the sun.
The far future
Outside of the EU but within the EEA sits Iceland. Underneath the frozen island is a theoretically limitless source of energy from volcanic or subterranean geothermal sources. Currently, geothermal produces 25% of the island’s power, according to national statistics. However, export is made impossible by technological limitations – there are simply no current methods that can transport electricity reliably over such a distance without loss. However, with a project in the pipeline since 2012, this could soon be a huge source of renewable energy and ready-to-go heating for the entirety of Europe.
With 25% of EU energy taken by households, and a large proportion of that going directly to heating, it is crucial that governments enable citizens to find sustainable ways to heat their homes. Without innovation, it will be impossible to meet ambitious climate change targets. Between naturally emitted gas, the sun and the power of the earth’s volcanic activity, this could be a reality.