Renewable heat

Tracking Clean Energy Progress

🕐 Last updated Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Not on track

Renewable heat consumption has grown by an estimated 2.6% annually over recent years, with a 20% total increase between 2010 and 2017. Renewable heat accounted for about 9% of global heat and for more than 50% of total final energy consumption globally in 2017. To meet the SDS goals, renewable heat needs to increase by 4% per year between 2017 and 2030. This acceleration will be very challenging and requires a much greater policy focus on renewable heat.


Renewable heat consumption by source

Renewable heat consumption needs to increase by 4% per year to meet the SDS goal for 2030.

	Bioenergy (excl. traditional biomass)	Solar	Geothermal	Renewable district heat	Renewable electricity
2010	296.0351181	15.3085158	6.545293	16.08946294	59.18079254
2011	292.6384591	18.33717847	6.862040998	16.13801988	62.20923797
2012	298.7996491	20.07768944	7.176581001	17.61381139	66.86963349
2013	309.2566161	26.25354425	7.501593	18.52204034	71.19728923
2014	306.5911081	27.88365566	7.784824	19.02445397	73.68545867
2015	307.5514484	29.73239545	8.539409	19.30770249	75.54699022
2016	313.5977429	32.38992312	9.335288202	19.33300749	81.24061797
2017	321.7539046	34.01887298	9.95263826	20.08307434	85.8509677
2020	338.579237	45.97783525	15.69494825	20.67168362	105.348275
2025	376.8547501	73.14251247	25.15948284	22.07641892	147.3730468
2030	415.0529615	111.539729	36.23509693	24.76785933	201.4202108
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Renewable heat consumption increased by an estimated 20% between 2010 and 2017, from 393 Mtoe to 472 Mtoe. Around half of the heat in 2017 was consumed for various uses in industry, while the other half was used in residential and commercial buildings for cooking, water and space heating, as well as in agriculture (e.g. for drying of produce).

Growth in renewable heat consumption in buildings and agriculture has been double (27%) that of industry (13%).

Bioenergy makes up the majority (87%) of renewable heat use in industry and over half is consumed in industries that produce biomass wastes and residues as part of their operations, such as the pulp, paper and print, food and tobacco and wood product industries. In buildings and agriculture, bioenergy accounts for about half of renewable heat consumption, with renewable electricity also supplying for a sizeable share (27%).

Brazil, China, the European Union, India and the United States are the largest renewable heat consumers, accounting for around two-thirds of the total. In Brazil and India, most renewable heat consumption is bioenergy in industry, while in the other countries the buildings sector plays a more important role in renewable heat consumption.


Renewable heat consumption by country/region

The EU is the largest consumer of renewable heat globally, followed by the US and China.

	2015
EU	24.99772424
US	12.81024952
Brazil	9.904329433
India	9.291944979
China	10.00552632
Rest of world	32.9902255
    
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The largest absolute growth during this period was in China, where renewable heat consumption increased by 150% to reach 46 Mtoe.

Elsewhere, growth in renewable heat has been more modest. The growth in China was driven primarily by the installation of solar thermal water heaters, although deployment slowed after 2014 due to a change in government incentives for solar thermal installations.

Solar thermal has been the fastest-growing renewable heat technology, with a 250% increase in cumulative capacity over the last decade. Most of the world’s solar thermal capacity comprises small domestic systems for providing hot water in single-family homes, although solar thermal is also increasingly being deployed at a larger scale in district heating systems, as well as in some industrial applications.


Global solar thermal heating capacity and gross additions

Solar thermal capacity has increased by more than 250% over the last decade but additions have tailed off in recent years.

	Global gross additions (right axis)	North America	Europe	China	Asia	Latin America	Africa	Other
2000	8	16.11641	13.4379	18.2	4.60556	1.7074	1.53095	2.28011
2001	10	16.41901	14.6461	22.4	13.5423	2.1597	1.64734	2.39911
2002	11	16.53786	15.6604	28	14.3639	2.49061	1.77224	2.50411
2003	12.9	16.63448	17.26099	35	15.1841	2.87501	1.93514	2.60911
2004	14.1	16.70085	19.16842	43.4	11.90014	3.32746	2.12413	2.74603
2005	15.8	16.53737	21.00566	52.85	12.47305	3.8332	2.36883	3.39006
2006	19.5	16.39025	23.32872	64.05	13.01781	4.45533	2.63286	3.47551
2007	23.4	16.47404	25.56772	78.4	13.99621	5.21917	3.04515	3.87716
2008	31.1	16.68378	28.52621	97.65	14.32143	6.10348	3.53621	4.04181
2009	39	16.70852	31.64498	123.55	15.5877	7.20398	4.1533	4.22688
2010	44.3	17.11095	34.29156	155.19	16.89075	8.52	4.87436	4.41589
2011	50.6	17.73022	38.18507	189.77	18.08984	9.95034	5.72259	4.69069
2012	54	18.40501	40.82033	226.17	20.74822	11.54098	6.55487	4.91437
2013	55	19.06319	43.75255	262.262	22.56492	13.2463	7.39876	5.14993
2014	46.6	19.59544	46.41498	289.52	24.1702	14.92034	8.08543	5.3462
2015	40.1	20.16368	48.7421	309.47	25.70017	16.36632	8.63724	5.44631
2016	36.7	20.68083	51.3869	324.534	27.10449	17.74253	9.18328	5.6644
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The estimated use of renewable electricity for heat increased by 25% between 2010 and 2017, due to increases in the share of renewables in electricity consumption and the use of electricity for heating. The increase of electricity use for heating has been particularly marked in the buildings sector with a 27% increase globally, with almost half of this being accounted for by China.

Bioenergy has grown at a slower rate (9%) than other sources of renewable heat. There is much scope for improving the efficiency of bioenergy heat (e.g. by replacing inefficient stoves with modern pellet boilers), thus creating potential for further growth with the same resource base. Furthermore, traditional uses of biomass such as open fires for cooking could be replaced with modern uses of renewable heat, such as biogas digesters and cookers.

In many countries, renewable heat deployment has been encouraged by policy support such as grants, tax credits and renewable heat requirements in building codes. Targets for renewable heat deployment have also been effective, particularly in China and the European Union.


Tracking progress

Despite recent growth in renewable heat consumption, reaching the 2030 SDS target remains very challenging. Renewable heat consumption would need to increase by 67% total, or 217 Mtoe, between 2017 and 2030, which would require annual growth of 4%, compared with just 2.6% between 2010 and 2017.


Renewable heat consumption by sector and source

Consumption will have to increase significantly across all sectors to reach SDS targets.

	Bioenergy (excl. traditional biomass)	Solar	Geothermal	Renewable district heat	Renewable electricity
Industry	201.4201926	0.451633482	0.368183187	7.902224936	22.28821933
Buildings and agriculture	120.333712	33.5672395	9.584455073	12.1808494	63.56274837
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	Bioenergy (excl. traditional biomass)	Solar	Geothermal	Renewable district heat	Renewable electricity
Industry	268.6064954	15.54506959	3.414412792	9.75125644	61.25752303
Buildings and agriculture	146.4464661	95.9946594	32.82068414	15.01660289	140.1626877
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China alone will need to increase renewable heat consumption by 95 Mtoe, or 207%. While China’s 13th Five-Year Plan (2016 to 2020) has ambitious targets for solar thermal, geothermal and biomass, it will still be difficult to achieve this level of growth by 2030. On a positive note, clean heat to reduce urban air pollution has become a policy priority in China and should help increase deployment rates.

In the European Union, the required growth of 31% by 2030 will depend on the implementation of the new Renewable Energy Directive. In the United States, required growth of 64% may be difficult to achieve without further policy intervention, especially if natural gas prices remain low.

Bioenergy will need to grow by 29% and would still be the largest source of renewable heat in 2030, but the consumption of solar thermal would have to more than treble and that of geothermal almost quadruple.

The use of renewable electricity for heat will also have to more than double. This would mostly be due to the rising share of renewables in electricity generation but a 20% rise in the use of electricity for heat is also needed.

Total heat consumption, which has been growing at a rate of 1% per year in recent years, will have to be reduced by 6% between 2017 and 2030 through major energy efficiency efforts.

To achieve the challenging renewable heat targets, more policy focus is needed on overcoming a diverse range of barriers.

Countries should set targets for renewable heat and develop strategies to achieve them, integrating renewable heat objectives closely with energy efficiency policy. Policy instruments such as carbon taxes, financial support schemes and mandates for renewable heat in buildings have succeeded in several countries and could be rolled out elsewhere.

However, renewable heat policies will have to reflect each country’s different circumstances (e.g. building stock, industrial heat demand, resource potentials) and specific barriers that need to be overcome.


Innovation

The IEA’s new Innovation Tracking Framework identifies key long-term “technology innovation gaps” across the energy mix that need to be filled in order to meet long-term clean energy transition goals. Each innovation gap highlights where R&D investment and other efforts need improvement.

Explore the technology innovation gaps identified for renewable heating and cooling below:

Solar

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

A key issue for space heating is inter-seasonal storage. Sun irradiance is highest during the summer when the heating demand is the lowest. Seasonal storage would allow for this energy to be used when needed.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Phase Change Materials (PCMs) have the ability to absorb and release energy (as latent heat) when changing between solid and liquid phases. Further improvement of these are necessary to enable the thermal energy stored to be maintained below the melting point of the original material. The idea is to be able to "release" the thermal energy when it is needed. This can potentially be used for space heating, cooking and drying of crops.

Key initiatives

The Grossman Group at MIT have made significant advances on the fundamental material's design level.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

  • Education for planners, architects and builders on the benefits of BIST.
  • Development of absorbers/collectors with long lifetimes, easily installed and with appealing aesthetics.
  • Reduce costs - according to Maurer, Cappel and E.Kuhn, (2017) the highest potential when developing business models lies in models that do not include the traditional three-stage distribution but use synergies among the labour branches on-site.

Key initiatives

EU Horizon 2020 and Solar Heat Europe (ESTIF).

District heating

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

  • The transition towards a low carbon electricity system requires a higher penetration of VRE.
  • Integration costs are expected to increase i.e. there is a need for improved flexibility. This can be achieved in part by coupling the heat and electricity systems as this would help balance the variability from VRE.
  • IRENA lists the following drivers for an increased share of REs; Environmental, System benefits (i.e. coupling with the electric grid and the waste sector), Synergies with the urban environment & Increased energy security.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

The technology is mature but there are certain obstacles that need to be overcome to achieve more integrated systems:

  • Whereas power pools are composed of a number of countries, DH systems are usually national and therefore regulated by national and local rules, which may create obstacles for more integrated DHC-electric grid systems.
  • Large central power plants will run less hours in a decreasing price environment, resulting in a lack of incentives to invest in flexible capacity.
  • Due to tax exemptions for biomass local DH utilities tend to substitute gas-fired CHP plants rather than heat-only boilers.
  • Costs for distribution systems need to decrease for DHC to be competitive with decentralised generation.

Key initiatives

Flex4RES.

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

  • Heat sources used in district systems operate more efficiently at low temperatures, particularly impacting many of the lower carbon options. This means that distribution temperatures must decrease in order to improve the technology and decarbonise district heating grids.
  • Today temperatures are around supply 86 C and return 47 C. The targets for 4GD systems are a supply temperature between 45-50 C and a return around 20 C.
  • Low temperature operation would enable utilisation of more industrial heat, geothermal and heat from cooling processes. It would further decrease heat losses in distribution networks, improve efficiency of district-size heat pumps or through flue gas condensation in condensing equipment.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

Third pipe system Fourth Generation District Heating (4GHD-3P), apartment substations, longer thermal lengths.

Key initiatives

  • The EU launched the TEMPO programme (TEMPerature Optimisation for low Temperature District Heating) in Oct 2017 and it will run until September 2021.
  • Funded EU projects are carried out by: Smart Cities, Interreg, H2020, FP7, IEE, SAVE and FP5.
  • Other key initiatives: Halmstad University (Sweden) has accomplished distribution temperatures of 50 and 20 Celsius, and a prototype funded by TEMPO will be built.
  • 4DH initiative in Denmark.

Solar

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

  • In conventional air conditioning systems the sensible load decreases the temperature to 100% relative humidity (RH). The latent load removes the moisture of the air while containing 100% RH. This usually results in temperature levels below thermal comfort, hence, the air needs to be reheated and this requires additional energy.
  • Humidity (or rather the latent heat the humidity contains) is responsible for a large share of the cooling demand in many countries.
  • SSCL systems with one vapour-compression system and one solid/liquid desiccant wheel could address this as it does not require any reheating.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

  • Further R&D on optimal systems; materials for solid/liquid desiccants.
  • Further innovations needed to improve efficiency and Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratios (SEERs).

Why is this RD&D challenge critical?

  • This type of system can operate with low grade solar energy (i.e. lower temperatures). Desiccants can dry the air without first cooling it below its dew point. When the desiccant is loaded with water, heat is supplied so as to take it back to the "natural" state and hence air conditioning is provided.
  • Liquid desiccant cooling is suited for solar cooling as it can operate at low temperatures (50-90 C), and allows for high density and less energy storage in the concentrated desiccant.

Key RD&D focus areas over the next 5 years

  • Liquid desiccant cooling systems that use liquid water-lithium as sorption materials.
  • Compared to solid desiccant this can achieve a higher air dehumidification at the same driving temperature.
  • Reduce costs.

Explore all 100+ innovation gaps across 38 key technologies and sectors here.