On 16 February, the European Commission presented the first dedicated EU-level heating and cooling strategy. The initiative aims to make heating and cooling in buildings and industry smarter, more energy efficient and sustainable. This could represent an immense opportunity for the natural refrigerant industry, as Europe wants to decarbonise its whole building stock by 2050.

The Heating and Cooling Strategy was published together with the Commission’s energy security package, one of the cornerstones of the EU’s new Energy Union.

“90% of our buildings in the housing sector are energy inefficient and are mostly fitted with old boilers with low efficiency rates. Maybe that is no surprise when you consider that half of our building stock was built before energy performance standards even existed. And with renovation rates below 1% you see we have much work to do,” said EU Climate Action and Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete in his speech at the launch of the security of supply package.

“The point is that the heating and cooling sector can be one of the main drivers towards our climate and energy goals,” said Cañete.

Decarbonisation of buildings: opportunity for natural refrigerants

According to the Strategy, the F-Gas Regulation will contribute to accelerating the refurbishment of heating and cooling technology in buildings. It also states that “climate-friendly refrigerants offer great energy saving potentials, but require for some applications an update of existing standards to ensure their safe use. To that end the Commission has initiated the process of reviewing the relevant European standards”.

Furthermore, in the Commission Staff Working Document accompanying the Strategy, the Commission indicates that for heat pump technology “the choice of refrigerant also influences the efficiency. The phase-down of fluorinated greenhouse gases introduced by the Regulation 517/2014 [F-Gas Regulation] might trigger the higher uptake of natural refrigerants, leading to higher efficiencies”. 

“This implies a radical change to the types of refrigerants used over the next 10 years which will inevitably stimulate investment in plant refurbishment and upgrade. This presents an opportunity to ensure at the same time that the plant is made as efficient as economically justified,” the document states.

The Staff Working Document also mentions the use of natural refrigerants in different sectors. It indicates that in the industrial refrigeration market, the use of ammonia is already widespread in medium and large-scale industrial chillers. As for smaller equipment, such as bottle coolers or vending machines, hydrocarbon refrigerants are becoming increasingly popular due to their high energy efficiency.

Confirming the trend for commercial refrigeration, the document states that “CO2 is increasingly used in large supermarket systems, either in cascade systems with other refrigerants or in transcritical systems as the sole refrigerant. There are close to 5,000 of these systems existing in Europe today and their numbers are growing rapidly”. 

Finance available for renovating buildings

“We also need to speed up renovation rates. Our 2016 review of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive will look at how to replace inefficient boilers and incentivise renovations in multi-apartment buildings,” said the commissioner.

The EU executive has already made financing available through the European Fund for Structural Investments. One of the first projects in France focuses on energy renovation of private residential buildings.

Furthermore, the Commission will launch a ‘Smart Finance for Smart Buildings’ initiative that will enable access to new and innovative funding mechanisms for energy efficiency renovations, for example by grouping small building renovation projects into bigger packages.

Next steps

To transition towards low-carbon heating and cooling, the European Commission will review the Energy Efficiency Directive, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, and the Smart Financing for Smart Buildings Initiative in 2016.

The Commission will also put forward proposals for the New Electricity Market Design and Renewable Energy Framework in 2016. The EU executive will also engage in other activities, such as developing a toolbox to facilitate renovation in multi-apartment buildings, promoting energy efficiency examples for public educational buildings and hospitals, and improving training for building professionals through the BUILD UP skills campaign.

As a next step, the Strategy must now be endorsed by EU member states (in the Council) and the European Parliament.


An EU Strategy on Heating and Cooling
Commission Staff Working Document (part 1)
Commission Staff Working Document (part 2)

Author r744