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Cogeneration of heat and power

The EU promotes cogeneration in order to improve energy efficiency in Europe.

Cogeneration is the simultaneous production of electricity and useful heat. In a regular power plant, the heat remaining in the generation of electricity is released to the environment, mostly through cooling towers or cooling water, whereas in a cogeneration plant, the heat is recovered for use in homes, businesses, and industry. Significantly, cogeneration plants can achieve energy efficiency levels of around 90%, and small cogeneration facilities can also be an effective way to supply energy to remote areas without the need for expensive grid infrastructure.

A trigeneration plant, or combined cooling, heat and power (CCHP), produces cooling (air conditioning) as well as heat and electricity.

Promoting cogeneration in Europe

Cogeneration can significantly help improve energy efficiency as efficiency gains can be achieved in a technologically neutral way, particularly by making use of waste heat and cold from waste incineration, power generation and industry, as well as district heat and cold transmission installations with low losses.

In line with the Energy efficiency directive, the Commission may require EU countries to carry out a comprehensive assessment of the potential for efficient heating and cooling, including the assessment of the potential for cogeneration.

Cost-benefit analyses of the cogeneration

The Energy Efficiency Directive requires EU countries must to ensure that a cost-benefit analysis is conducted of the potential of using cogeneration when they plan to build or substantially refurbish

  • a heat or electrical installation with a total thermal input exceeding 20MW
  • an industrial installation generating waste heat with a total thermal input exceeding 20MW
  • a district heating and cooling network exceeding a total thermal input of 20MW. In this case, the intention is to see if it is cost-effective to utilise waste heat from nearby industry


In certain cases, the facilities exceeding 20MW thermal input described above may be exempt from a cogeneration cost-benefit analysis. Specifically

  • facilities that are expected to operate for less than 1500 hours per year over a five year period. For instance, back-up electricity installations and peak load power plants that are only turned on during very high levels of demand
  • nuclear power installations
  • installations located close to a geological site for carbon capture and storage

EU governments are required to notify the European Commission of these exemptions. Their notifications are available in the table below.

High-efficiency cogeneration

The Energy Efficiency Directive lays down a common definition of high-efficiency cogeneration. To fit the definition, a cogeneration plant has to achieve primary energy savings compared to separate production of heat and electricity in contemporary power plants and boilers. To determine the primary energy savings of the cogeneration, the directive establishes a calculation methodology that involves comparison of the electrical and thermal efficiency of the cogeneration plant, with the reference values for the separate production of electricity and heat. The Commission regularly reviews these reference values based on the latest developments in the electricity and heat generation. The next study to evaluate the present reference values for the separate production of electricity and heat is scheduled for 2021

Guarantees of origin

With the Energy Efficiency Directive, EU countries are required to ensure that the origin of electricity produced from high-efficiency cogeneration can be proved with guarantees of origin.

National cogeneration reports

Under the repealed Cogeneration Directive (2004/8/EC), EU countries were required to publish national reports on cogeneration every 4 years.