The Thermal Opportunity

Energy used for heating and cooling comprises approximately 50% of total global final energy demand and 39% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. In the United States, heating and cooling account for more than 25 percent of total energy use across residential, commercial, and industrial sectors at a cost of $270 billion annually. Additionally, global heat production is responsible for 39% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.

Despite its large energy and carbon footprint and its significant potential to reduce carbon emissions, the use of renewable energy for heating and cooling applications has received relatively little attention compared with renewable electricity. Many of the technologies that provide renewable thermal solutions are less known by buyers and 

Our Strategy

The Renewable Thermal Collaborative is a group of renewable thermal energy buyers (Members) who aim to tackle the long-neglected challenge of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from energy used for heating and cooling. The RTC has become the leading coalition for organizations that are committed to scaling up renewable heating and cooling. 

The RTC’s strategy is to replicate the success that has occurred in renewable electricity markets, where corporate and other institutional buyers have used their market demand and influence to drive down prices, simplify access, and scale deployment of renewable technologies.

Renewable Energy Sources

The Challenge: A Market Lagging Behind

Despite the clear need to adopt renewable thermal solutions, the available options 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, let alone global climate goals. Globally, renewable thermal energy is growing by only 2.3% annually, in contrast to renewable electricity which is growing by 6% per year. This large disparity exposes the many technology, supply, market, and policy barriers facing thermal energy. Inexpensive natural gas, especially in the U.S., makes it hard for these technologies to compete.

Insufficient policy is another clear barrier. According to the IEA, more than 120 countries in all world regions have policies designed to promote renewable electricity, but only 40 have specific policies for renewable heat, most of which are within the European Union. In addition, renewable electricity solutions, including Power Purchase Agreements and utility offerings, have developed much more quickly and are enabling buyers to rapidly scale up the market, while these options do not exist for renewable thermal energy.

To drive the market toward more cost-competitive thermal solutions, the RTC has issued the industry’s first Renewable Thermal Buyers’ Statement. This statement demonstrates buyers’ demand for market-ready, sustainable, renewable thermal solutions, sending a strong signal to the marketplace. This broad representation across corporate sectors and geographies includes automotive, biotech, consumer products, food and beverage, agriculture, IT, pharmaceuticals, as well as cities, states, healthcare, and higher education. 

The RTC collaborates with its Members and Solutions Providers to accelerate industrial decarbonization by identifying and addressing ways to overcome the technology, policy, and market challenges that large thermal energy users face. 

Largest users of renewable thermal energy

Industry is responsible for:

Production of Overall Greenhouse Gas Emissions

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Growth Rate Over Average Global Emissions

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Of Sector's Energy Demand Goes to Producing Heat

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Of Emissions come from production of just EIGHT Basic Materials

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Buildings are responsible for:

Overall Global Energy Related CO2 Emissions

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Co2 Emissions are from Direct Fossil Fuel Consumption

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Energy Consumption in Buildings Goes to Heating

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Increase in reported emissions from buildings

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Two of the largest users of renewable thermal energy are the industrial and buildings sectors. Today the industrial sector emits about one-third of GHG emissions, but the sector’s emissions are rising at twice the rate of average global emissions. Energy used to produce heat is responsible for two-thirds of all energy demand in the sector and one-fifth of all global energy demand. Emissions in the sector are also highly concentrated: eight energy-intensive basic material manufacturing sectors—steel, chemicals, cement, pulp and paper, aluminum, glass, food, and oil refining—emit more than 77% of industrial emissions. These manufacturing sectors also demand a wide range of heat temperatures, including very high heat levels.

Buildings are responsible for nearly one-quarter (23%) of global energy related CO2 emissions, with one-third of those from direct fossil fuel consumption, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In the U.S., space and water heating, along with cooking—often powered by natural gas—constitute 39% of total energy consumption in buildings, according to the Energy Information Administration. In 2018, the Rhodium Group reported emissions from residential and commercial buildings increased by 10%—their highest level since 2004.