REPowerEU is missing the potential of energy recovery

Per Everhill 15 feb 2023

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, the European Union has worked extensively to come up with concrete actions to rapidly reduce the dependence of imported Russian fossil energy. The REPowerEU Plan focuses on energy savings, diversification of energy supplies, and accelerated roll-out of renewable energy to replace fossil fuels in homes, industry and power generation. Increased energy efficiency and more renewable energy production will contribute to European security of supply in the energy field. However, the plan does not mention the potential of energy recovery from resources that otherwise would go to waste in landfills or in industrial processes. 

More than 100 million tons of municipal waste are still sent to landfills in Europe every year. Although material recovery is increasing, there are still a lot of fossil free waste in Europe that could be recovered as electricity and heat, thereby reducing the need for imported gas. In addition to that, The European forest industry produces large volumes of biproducts such as wood chips and sawdust. Better utilisation of such waste streams could create more than 100 TWh of renewable energy only in Sweden according to a recent study. There is also a huge potential for increased usage of excess heat from the European industry which today in many cases are actively released into the open air.

There are many good examples of energy recovery in Europe. More than half of all buildings in the city of Gothenburg in Sweden are heated with waste heat from local industry, energy recovered from municipal waste and bioenergy. The city of Dublin is a forerunner in using waste heat from computer centres and Vilnius in Lithuania has replaced Russian gas with bioenergy from forest industry biproducts in large parts of its heating system. 

In order to utilise the potential of these waste streams for energy purposes, the following principles needs to be adopted by the European union in the upcoming revisions of directives:

  • It is of the uttermost importance that these resources are given the same market conditions as new renewable energy production. Given the same market opportunities, energy from waste resources is likely to outperform new renewable energy in many cases.  
  • The current ban on landfills in Europe needs to be strengthened with less possibilities for exceptions. Energy recovery of waste should be the preferred solution for handling municipal waste that for economical or technical reasons can not be made into new materials.
  • Industrial waste that cannot be used for producing new products should be used for energy production. For example, increased usage of biproducts from the forest industry must be promoted regardless of where such arise in the economic chain.
  • As a complement to the suggested “renewables go-to areas” suggested in REPowerEU, the member states should be obliged to investigate the potential for energy recovery in the waste management-, industry-, and heating sector.

It essential that the potential of energy recovery is being addressed in the current revision of directives initiated in the REPowerEU plan. The next winters will be critical for the European Unions ability to withstand Russia’s energy warfare. We can not afford to waste any resources that could help us to keep warm and the lights on in Europe.