Finding the right HACKS for low-carbon heating and cooling | WWF
Finding the right HACKS for low-carbon heating and cooling

Posted on 24 June 2020

Many Europeans aren’t aware that heating and cooling consumes half of the continent’s energy. The HACKS project aims to make it easier for them to make climate-smart choices, write Hélène Rochat and Jennifer Calder.
Around the world, governments and utilities are focused on decarbonising electricity grids, turning away from coal- and natural gas-fired power plants in favour of increasingly inexpensive renewables. But where much less focus has been directed is in addressing the growing climate impact of heating and cooling our homes and businesses, including in Europe.

In Europe, heating and cooling accounts for around 50% of the energy we use. In households, around 80% of energy is used for heating and hot water. Many of these systems are inefficient: around half of the buildings in Europe have heating systems installed before 1992, typically with efficiencies of 60% or less.

While cooling is currently a relatively small part of energy use, it is growing fast as the climate warms: between 2015 and 2030, the number of refrigerators and air conditioning units in the EU is set to double.

This will impact the climate in two ways: through an increase in energy demand to power all these new appliances; and through the greater use of refrigerants with high global warming potential. On current trends, the growth globally of air conditioning and refrigeration over the next three decades could exceed the entire carbon budget required to hold global warming to below 1.5°C.

It is vital, then, that we turn our attention to this enormous source of energy use and carbon emissions. Ensuring that our heating and cooling needs are met with net-zero emissions will be one of the big challenges of the years to come.

This will rely on hundreds of millions of householders and business owners making the most energy- and carbon-efficient choices when it comes to their heating and cooling needs.

Challenges and choices

Unfortunately, there are a number of barriers in the way of consumers when it comes to making those choices. First, there is a lack of knowledge about the subject. Most home and business owners give little thought to heating and cooling, as long as they are reasonably comfortable and do not face exorbitant costs.

Second, they are not readily presented with clear choices. Heating and cooling systems are usually provided by intermediaries, such as installation companies, who often have preferred suppliers and who are presented with little if any incentive to favour the most energy- or carbon-efficient options.

Third, replacing existing boilers is expensive in the short term – even more so if entire heating (or cooling) systems need to be replaced. Replacing older equipment can lead to significant cost savings over time – modern boilers can offer 100% efficiency, while those with heat pumps can deliver 150% – but the large upfront costs involved means that the investment can take several years to be repaid.

Working together through HACKS

To address these barriers in Europe, WWF is backing the Heating and Cooling Know-how and Solutions (HACKS) project. Led by Topten, a global network promoting energy efficiency policies and projects, providing a consumer-focused online product ranking tool, and funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, HACKS aims to transform markets for heating and cooling appliances across Europe.

To do so, it is working with 17 partner organisations – NGOs and government agencies – across 15 European countries. The programme is reviewing available products, talking with retailers and manufacturers, and collecting information on government policies and financial incentives.

Armed with this information, the partners will undertake consumer education campaigns, launch websites to provide easily understood advice, and lobby at the national and EU levels for greater policy and regulatory support to promote efficient heating and cooling.

The goal of the programme is to help consumers make better choices regarding heating and cooling. It will do so by ensuring that: policies and incentives are aligned with Europe’s climate goals; consumers are aware of the financial incentives available in their countries to help them invest in lower-carbon options; consumers can easily find the best products; advice is available on behavioural changes and low-cost, low-tech fixes – such as fans, shading or insulation – to help them avoid unnecessary investments in heating or cooling equipment.

Compared with putting up solar panels or buying an electric car, investing in efficient heating and cooling may lack a certain eco-glamour. But it is a critical component of the comprehensive climate action we need to take. The HACKS project will make it easier for European consumers to make the right choices – for their comfort, for their wallets and for the planet.

Hélène Rochat is the project manager for energy efficiency at Topten. Jennifer Calder is WWF’s global energy efficiency lead.
Air conditioning units
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