In most countries where EBRD is active, the pandemic struck when the winter was ending, so the consequences could have been much worse. Experts say green and resilient in district energy are not conflicting options and that focusing on efficiency alone instead of lifting the share of renewables brings the risk of running out of time in terms of climate change.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development held an online discussion to address the possibilities for a resilient, low carbon district energy in the age of COVID-19. Greg Gebrail and Bojan Bogdanović, who wrote a policy paper on the response to the coronavirus, stressed investments in infrastructure in the sector are the key factor. At the same time, there is not necessarily a choice between green solutions and resilience in district energy, they said.
Prioritizing energy efficiency measures within the scope of fossil fuel technology instead of pushing for renewables carries the risk of running out of time when it comes to the climate challenge, according to Managing Director of Euroheat and Power Paul Voss.
No additional expenditure will go to waste
As the pandemic struck, most countries where EBRD operates were near the end of winter and the challenge to the sector would have been worse if it happened just one month earlier, Gebrail noted. As there is a risk of the disease hitting again later in the year, focus must be placed on the resilience of the district heating infrastructure, he underscored at the webinar.
The specialist from the bank’s sustainable infrastructure group warned against cutting back on essential maintenance activities in the face of economic hardship. “Even if this second wave doesn’t come to pass, this preparation and additional expenditure would not go to waste,” he said and highlighted the potential in automation, system monitoring and large-scale thermal storage.
Air quality is top priority amid COVID-19 pandemic
The paper was created with the intention to provide a checklist for people in the industry and decision makers in cities and government, Bogdanović asserted.
In the meantime, several studies pointed to a direct correlation between air pollution and mortality from COVID-19, he stated. In the Western Balkans and other places where the EBRD is present, there were major issues with air pollution during the past winter, Bogdanović told participants and concluded it became the most important topic.
District heating can bring green energy where others cannot
He said district heating and cooling systems are the tool to fight pollution. Furthermore, in Bogdanović’s view, the expansion in heating must be provided from renewable sources and not fossil fuels.
Green energy is a necessity but also an opportunity as district heating can bring renewable energy where others cannot, he said. The fund manager of the EBRD’s Renewable District Energy in the Western Balkans (ReDEWeB) pointed to ongoing projects like heat pumps utilizing waste heat from wastewater treatment facilities in Valjevo and Šabac in Serbia.