Heating and cooling

19 Jul 22

Ban for good: end of fossil fuel boiler can pave EU’s way out of Russian gas

A blanket ban of gas and oil boilers can slash EU’s imports of Putin’s gas by up to 28%, the latest Coolproducts study finds [1]. Silver bullets do not exist in policy-making, but the renewable heating bullet is as silver as it can get: supporting EU security, tackling energy poverty, all the while clearing national climate targets.

The EU imports 45% of its gas from Russia, and the war in Ukraine has painfully underscored Europe’s needs to boost energy efficiency and transition to cleaner, cheaper, and more diverse sources of renewables – a message expected to be reiterated in this upcoming Wednesday’s Winter Package from the Commission.

With 75% of European homes using fossil fuels for heating, the sector has always been a matter of concern in climate topics. However, with the war in Ukraine and the sanctioning of Russia, European consumers have experienced massive energy price hikes, high inflation, and rising rates of energy poverty. Getting fossil fuels out of our heating has now become a matter of security, climate, and social concerns.

On the Ban-wagon

Fortunately, incompatible with European social and climate targets, oil and gas boilers’ days appear to be numbered. Two recent EU initiatives are aiming at an out-of-the-market sentence for boilers: the REPowerEU plans mark 2029 as the last year when a new fossil fuel boiler can be retailed on the EU market, while the latest draft proposal of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) proposes 2035 as the absolute last year for fossil heating to be used in buildings. The latest nail in the boilers’ coffin came in hot from last week’s ITRE vote, where the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) underlined that a switch from old fossil boilers to newer ones will not be labelled as energy savings.

The Union is warming up to show a unified act of solidarity once more by taking serious measures to cut off Putin’s gas.

Nationally, such a blanket ban would overcome the complicated web of national policies and subsidy schemes towards fossil and renewable heating (illustrated in this interactive map [2]). These schemes are lagging, oftentimes contradicting and undermining their own climate and security agreements through continued subsidies to fossil boilers [3].

National impacts

In the latest Coolproducts study [1] with Öko-Institut, the impact of such a ban on each member state is studied in closer detail, with available figures for each country [4]. 

EU gas savings in different scenarios: ban starting 2023, 2035, and 2029

On average, a ban starting 2023 can save 28% of Russian gas imports, and 11% of total gas imports in the EU. In addition, on the climate front, greenhouse gas emission would be reduced to an equivalent of 18% of the effort sharing target. Countries would make strides in their renewable energy targets for heating and cooling, with the average of 37% of targets achieved, reaching as high as 60-70% of renewable targets for some member states (e.g. Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands). All in one act of removing fossil fuel boilers from the market.

Ready to Heat

In a scenario where the EU is preparing to completely cut off Russian gas, switching to a clean long-term solution for heating is inevitable. Heat pumps powered with natural refrigerants and district heating are the only technologies ticking all the boxes. 

The good news: these alternatives are matured technology and ready to replace. The former is particularly effective with low running costs, great energy performance in even colder European climate, easy switching with boilers, and supply of cooling for summer. 

The change is simply a matter of political will: we need more and fairer subsidies to a mass rollout of heat pumps including to lower-income families, and we need bold policies that end the use of tax money to subsidise the threat to our security, people, and planet.

Davide Sabbadin, Deputy Policy Manager for Climate, European Environmental Bureau (EEB) said:

“If we are serious about breaking free from gas dependency and lower consumers’ bills it’s time to walk the talk and introduce a EU-wide ban on placing on the market of fossil boilers: it’s a win-win measure for both climate and EU’s energy independence.”

Marco Grippa, Programme Manager, Environmental Coalition on Standards (ECOS) said

“When it comes to heating our homes, we are largely dependent on Russian gas and oil. And it comes at a huge cost, both for our climate and our pockets. Renewable heating, powered by technologies such as heat pumps and district heating will decarbonise our homes, help people save money in times of pressing inflation, and enable the EU to build a future of energy independence.”  


Editor’s note:

[1] https://www.coolproducts.eu/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Coolproducts-report-2022-19-July-22.pdf

[2] https://www.coolproducts.eu/failing-rules/mapping-europes-subsidies-for-fossil-fuel-heating-systems/

[3] As is the case with Belgium, Croatia, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Poland, and Slovenia. The specifics of these subsidies can be found in the Annex of the study. [4] https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/10PyUz2_oYFqmDh1IJkT6CIfD8ERLQ1a7pVA9mmWp_TE/edit?usp=sharing

Map legend:

Gas boilers and other fossil fuels (Dark red); Gas boilers (Red); Regional subsidies to fossil fuels (orange); and No fossil fuel subsidies (green); No available data (grey)