German Building Law Puts Europe’s Heating Transition On Shaky Grounds

In a move that may have profound implications for Europe’s ambitious heating transition, the German Parliament voted today to keep the door open to fossil fuel heating systems in its new building law, a move regretted by green NGOs

Germany’s efforts to transition to renewable heating sources now rely heavily on subsidies and municipal heating plans. Rather than setting a clear federal framework for the phase-out of fossil fuel in homes, the German parliament will allow individuals to install fossil boilers labelled as “hydrogen-ready”, given that municipalities promise hydrogen will be provided in the future.

With the role of hydrogen in heating still in question – it is far too expensive – allowing for these boilers to stay will inevitably delay the necessary transition to readily available renewable technologies like heat pumps.

Commenting on this, Luke Haywood, Policy Manager for Climate and Energy at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said:

“Germany’s heating law is a , but fearmongering has muddied a simple and coherent plan. Opportunities were missed, with weighty consequences for climate actions at the EU level. Allowing for the installation of new fossil boilers in 2024 and up until 2044 under certain conditions, is a crazy idea – it not only raises emissions and relies on volatile supply, but also drives up carbon pricing for households when this comes to force in 2027. Faster adoption of heat pumps is undoubtedly the smart, affordable move to prevent energy poverty.”

A Missed Opportunity

Germany, a nation where the heating sector accounts for half of its energy consumption, relies heavily on heating systems powered by fossil fuels, with renewables accounting for a mere 15% in the energy mix [1]. Phasing out fossil fuel boilers from these systems was poised to be a pivotal step in Germany’s much-needed push for sustainability and affordable and reliable energy.

The initial proposal put forth by the German government in April was ambitious, setting a deadline of 2024 for the cessation of new gas boiler sales and installations as requested, among others, by the International Energy Agency. If enacted, this move would have a swift national win for several critical climate and energy targets, including a 15% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, an 11% reduction in gas imports, and a 44% increase in renewable energy adoption within the heating and cooling sector [2].

However, the law approved today did not live up to this potential. Instead, it puts mature solutions such as heat pumps and solar thermal on equal ranks with wishful thinking hydrogen heating, whose origin can be either renewable or fossil alike.

Fit-for-55 legacy threatened

As the strongest voice for a more ambitious Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) and Ecodesign for Space and Water Heaters on the EU level, Germany’s timid step was seen by NGOs as a worrying sign for EU’s renewable transition.

If municipalities allow citizens to install hybrid boilers in Germany, and if the EU follows this path of ambiguity, it will endanger Europe’s commitments to a carbon neutral future and its prized Fit for 55 ambitions. Given that heating accounts for half of Europe’s energy consumption, achieving carbon neutrality is a pipedream without breaking free from this dependency.

EU institutions must now protect its climate legacy ahead of 2024 elections in the uphill battle for an ambitious outcome from the EPBD trilogue and Ecodesign. These negotiations have faced fierce resistance from gas lobbyists [3], resulting in substantial exemptions and loopholes.

The EU can and must promptly address these issues during ongoing trilogue negotiations or forthcoming Ecodesign regulation. It is imperative that ambition not only be maintained but also heightened to secure a future where all citizens can enjoy a decent quality of life in their homes while safeguarding Europe’s energy security and independence.

Note to editors:

[1] Wilke, S. (2022). Energieverbrauch nach Energieträgern und Sektoren. Federal Environment Agency (UBA).

[2] Coolproducts (2022). Impact of a ban of fossil heating technologies on NECPs and national energy dependency. European Environmental Bureau.

[3] Better Without Boilers (2023). The gas lobby’s boiler battle. Better Without Boiler Coalition.

German Building Law Puts Europe’s Heating Transition On Shaky Grounds
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