Energy system integration in Europe – Decarbonization of the European economy

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      The current crisis brought about by COVID-19 has strongly impacted our economic activity and has put all sectors in dire straits. The green recovery put forward and advocated for by the Commission in May, focuses on speeding up the transformation of all economic sectors in such a way so as to ensure future growth will be sustainable and generate sufficient new jobs.  

      Within the framework of the Paris Agreement and in line with ambitions of the Green Deal, Member States have committed to curbing their carbon emissions and promoting fossil fuels alternatives in order to meet their energy needs, while securing reliable supplies of energy sources and ensuring the EU’s autonomy.

      But how exactly are we to increase the reliability of fuel supplies while reducing costs and minimizing environmental impacts of our energy systems? The answer should be looked for in the notion of “synergy” and “integration” as a guarantee for greater overall efficiency. This is quite a revolutionary perspective, and it seems like the European Commission has already embarked on this road. Indeed, the Commission will shortly bring forward a new strategy for energy system integration and a new hydrogen strategy aiming to lay the foundations for the European energy system of the future.

      Energy Systems Integration (ESI) means linking the energy sector composed of various energy fuels and carriers – electricity, heat, cold, gas, solid and liquid fuels – with each other and with the end-use sectors where carbon consumption and emissions need to be reduced, such as buildings, transport, or industry. Linking sectors will allow for the optimisation of the energy system as a whole and generate essential synergies, while avoiding energy losses and waste

      The transition towards energy systems integration will involve using various technologies such as ICT, smart grids, and meters to create a more flexible, more decentralised and digitalised energy system, in which consumers are empowered to make their energy choices and become active prosumers. It will rely on the direct and indirect electrification of those sectors, which are still reliant on fossil fuels. The latter will be progressively replaced by renewables gases, including green hydrogen.

      The strategy will be essential for the heat sector, often overlooked or misunderstood. Technologies to increase the share of renewable energies in the heating sector within the strategy, including the use of biomass, solar thermal and geothermal facilities, heat pumps, power to gas-fired heating and power generation facilities, will guarantee optimised system flexibility and contribute to the competitiveness of the European industry.

      In the Commission’s view, this integrated approach is also necessary to make the most of hydrogen’s potential, open up new markets for flexible storage systems, tap on the potential of waste heat and allow for cross-sectoral energy transfers in order to ramp up the full decarbonisation of various sectors.

      This special issue will highlight the tremendous economic, technological and environmental potential of integrating various fuels, different energy carriers, parts of energy systems and sectors. 

      In this time of unprecedented economic crisis, Europe’s ambition will be to shape a new decarbonised, resilient, and innovative economy, and we have no doubt that energy systems integration approach is part of the equation.


      Laurent ULMANN