Published: Thu, 19 October 2023
Geothermal heat, especially when paired with district heating networks for broad local distribution, is an abundant resource just below our feet. Europe needs more of it to decarbonise the building sector and kick its fossil fuel habit, writes a cross-party group of five MEPs.
This op-ed is co-signed by the following members of the European Parliament: Martin Hojsik (Renew Europe), Seán Kelly (EPP), Niels Fuglsang (S&D), Ciarán Cuffe (Greens/EFA), Morten Helveg Petersen (Renew Europe).
Geothermal energy, or heat found just below the surface of the earth, is Europe’s next big renewable opportunity. A renewable, secure, and local energy source, it is a vital tool to decarbonise the heating sector and contribute to Europe’s climate and energy goals.
As MEPs representing the four biggest political groups, we are united behind the European Green Deal to ensure the EU reaches its 2030 climate targets. For us this is common ground and non-negotiable for the future of our continent.
We recognise that the success of the Green Deal depends on the speed with which we manage to roll out renewables to replace fossil energy and heat sources. Building on the expertise of Europe-based sustainable frontrunners, this fast deployment will drive down GHG emissions, ensure energy security, and provide affordable alternatives.
In this process, we must leverage all of Europe’s clean energy resources to the best advantage of our citizens.
Geothermal energy has huge potential to support the decarbonisation of Europe’s buildings. The energy used by EU citizens to heat and cool their buildings currently makes up half of Europe’s energy demand. More than 60% of this demand is currently fulfilled by fossil fuels.
Decarbonising the heating sector therefore represents a major lever to drive down emissions. And the good news is geothermal district heating is overlooked, but readily available, competitive, clean and secure alternative heat source. We need more of it!
In a global competition for cleantech it is important that we encourage market-driven solutions, such as clean heat made in Europe. Targeted EU policy can provide the framework needed to accelerate the rollout of renewable heat and energy sources and enable European businesses to provide the solutions.
The technology is also largely scalable and will make heat affordable, especially if companies with subsurface expertise, such as oil and gas companies, bear the subsurface risk during exploration, construction, and operation.
This will also lead to a more diversified supply of heat which directly makes the EU more independent – it creates open strategic autonomy and energy security.
After last winter, it is undebatable that guaranteeing energy security is an imperative element to the climate transition. So is the social dimension – the Just Transition.
Geothermal heat, especially when paired with district heating networks for broad local distribution, is an abundant resource just below our feet. Harvesting heat from the earth to heat our built environment is affordable and scalable in East and West.
For scaling up this available renewable heat source, European citizens can benefit from the vast distribution networks of district heating.
Using, modernising, and extending these existing networks will allow for replacing the fossil with other clean heat sources, such as geothermal, representing a huge opportunity to reduce import dependencies. An opportunity to become more resilient we must use.
Moreover, when paired with renewable electricity for harvesting the heat, geothermal district heating becomes a zero-emissions heat source.
We need more geothermal district heating to drive down emissions now and decarbonise the entire heating sector as soon as possible.
How can we achieve this?
The EU must provide the guiding framework to accelerate the rollout of geothermal district heating.
The most pressing issues to address include simplified and accelerated permitting procedures, granting easy access to subsurface data and supporting the expansion of modern, low-temperature district heating networks.
Many scattered pieces of the puzzle can already be found within the Renewables and Energy Efficiency Directives or the recently proposed list of net-zero strategic projects.
To complete the puzzle, we need to match the ambition of dedicated strategies for other renewables, such as the EU Solar Energy Strategy, and we want to ask the Commission to prepare a dedicated geothermal district heating strategy. Developing this strategy will bring together companies, cities, and citizens.
The time is right to commit to what we are convinced can have an immediate impact.
Going into the next European elections and into the next mandate, the completion of the Green Deal gets our unwavering support. Geothermal district heating will play a crucial role in decarbonising our heating sector. We need more of it now.
We call on the Commission to lead us there: identify barriers to geothermal energy use, propose measures to accelerate its rollout, and make EU geothermal energy systems more competitive and resilient.