June 7, 2022
Thermal decarbonization for institutional and C&I users could be the next big climate frontier
By Elana Knopp, Senior Content Writer
In this first of a two-part series, Edison Energy recently sat down with Blaine Collison, Executive Director of the Renewable Thermal Collaborative (RTC), to discuss the growing corporate and industrial demand for renewable thermal energy. RTC was founded in 2017 and is facilitated by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), David Gardiner and Associates, and World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Edison Energy is a proud sponsor of RTC, whose members include Honda, General Motors, Cargill, Kaiser Permanente, Mars, Nike, and Unilever, among many others.
Energy used for industrial process heat and the heating and cooling of buildings comprises approximately 50 percent of total global energy demand and nearly 40 percent of energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In the U.S., heating an cooling accounts for more than 25 percent of total energy use across residential, commercial, and industrial sectors at a cost of $270 billion annually. Industrial process heat is responsible for 12.5 percent of all U.S. GHG emissions.
Addressing these emissions will be critical to meeting the 1.5°C climate goals laid out in the Paris Agreement.
Yet, renewable thermal solutions are not being developed or adopted at the pace and scale required to meet the growing demand of large energy buyers in the market for renewable thermal solutions.
The Renewable Thermal Collaborative (RTC), a global coalition of companies, institutions, and governments committed to scaling up renewable heating and cooling at their facilities, is working to address the myriad technological, market, and policy barriers that prevent companies from utilizing renewable thermal technologies. These technologies include responsibly sourced biomass, biogas, geothermal, renewable natural gas or biomethane, beneficial electrification, green hydrogen, thermal storage, and solar thermal.
Industrial, institutional, and commercial energy users are increasingly turning their attention to decarbonizing their thermal energy use – currently produced by fossil gas or even coal – highlighting the need for timely updates to Scope 1 GHG accounting and claims frameworks.
“Thermal decarbonization – for industry, for institutional and commercial users – is absolutely the next big climate frontier,” said Blaine Collison, Executive Director at RTC and Senior Vice President at David Gardiner and Associates. “Anecdotally, I keep getting calls from industrial directors of energy and sustainability leaders saying, ‘My C-Suite just handed me a new science-based target: We’ve got a big goal and I think I understand how to approach renewable electricity. But this thermal thing–I’m not sure about that.’ More and more companies are looking for ways to decarbonize their thermal footprint. They need solutions–they need partners, technology, financing, and a strategy.”
The RTC works to help its members understand the range of renewable thermal solutions and deployment approaches, also working to expand governmental policies that will support acceleration and expansion of renewable thermal deployments.
“Policy has been critical to the renewable electricity markets in the U.S.,” Collison said, citing the PTC, ITC, and state Renewable Portfolio Standards. “These have been the bedrock for renewables. We’d like to see similar policies for renewable thermal. We’ve just had the seven hottest planetary years on record in a row. The science is inescapable, the risk to corporates is inescapable–particularly companies that are in food and beverage that are dealing with ag-based production. If a chocolate maker can’t source cocoa because you can’t grow it because it’s too hot, that is an operational risk. The business sector writ large gets it. There isn’t a question about whether climate change is happening. The answer is yes, and what do we do about it?”
Many of RTC’s member corporates have committed to Science-Based Targets or net-zero goals, including an increasing number of Fortune 500 companies. These are primarily multinational or global companies that span across sectors, including food and beverage, pharma, and auto manufacturing.
“We’re 20-some years into really working to scale renewable electricity in the industrialized world,” Collison said. “We’re not done, but the people I talk with feel pretty confident that they’ve got a pathway to their RE100 goals or dealing with Scope 2. But if you’re making stuff or if you’re heating and cooling large portfolios of buildings, you must solve for the carbon from natural gas–processed heat, space heat, space cool. This is what’s next.”
With few established criteria around renewable thermal energy, the RTC is calling for governments to adopt standards to increase use of renewable thermal via mechanisms like Renewable Portfolio Standards or targets.
“We’ve gotten really good at wind and solar,” Collison said. “The prices are amazing, and we’ve learned how to scale and deploy quickly. But thermal is not a two-technology conversation–it’s five or six technologies. When we talk about renewable thermal, we’re talking about biomass, biogas, RNG, solar thermal, electrification, green hydrogen, thermal storage. All of those have limits and heat is a very physical thing. You can’t make heat eight states away and send it down a distribution network. You have to make the heat where you’re going to use it, which is why natural gas is so handy.”
Check out additional conversations with leading experts from across the industry in our Visionary Voices: Perspectives in Energy Series.
Join Our Mailing List
Your Sustainability Playbook is Here: Disclosure to Decarbonization
Download our in-depth guide to setting and achieving your sustainability goals.Read More