Heating and cooling

27 Jun 22

Fossilised: is fossil heating finally becoming a thing of the past?

Soon, fossil fuel boilers could be consigned to history. First, as part of REPowerEU, the Commission suggested that new fossil heating appliances would be off the market as of 2029. In addition, the draft Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) sets 2035 as the final year for fossil fuel heating to be allowed at all. If confirmed, the EU might be on the brink of clearing one of the largest hurdles to the Paris Agreement goals.  

Today, most buildings in the EU still use oil or gas for heating. But the days of fossil fuel heating might be numbered. As with cassettes or landlines, the next generation will look at old gas boilers and scratch their heads in awe, wondering what these devices are used for.  

In two separate initiatives, the EU is about to sign an out-of-the-market sentence for them. On the one hand, the REPowerEU plans to achieve energy independence from Russia aim to boost energy savings and mark 2029 as the last year when a new fossil fuel boiler can be retailed on the EU market. 

In practice, this ban could be made effective by ecodesign policies. Ecodesign establishes minimum performance requirements for water and space heaters, including energy efficiency. Since gas and oil boilers are less efficient than heat pumps and other renewable-sourced alternatives, the Commission’s suggestion would mean raising the efficiency bar, and effectively outlawing fossil fuels as a result.  

On the other hand, the next EPBD, currently under negotiation at the European Parliament and EU national governments, could go one step further and set 2035 as the absolute deadline to stop the use of fossil fuel heating in buildings. Both new and old boilers would need to be uninstalled by then, and replaced with clean alternatives such as renewable-source heat pumps or district heating. 

For new and renovated buildings, the end of fossil heating could be even closer – perhaps as soon as 2025.

Such game-changing recommendations are included in a draft report submitted on 6 June by Green MEP Ciarán Cuffe, the lead negotiator for the EPBD in the Parliament, to the chamber’s Committee on Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE), leading on this file. 

The report also calls for other ambitious measures, such as EU-wide targets for clean heating and cooling, including objectives for the deployment of district heating and cooling networks using renewable energy and waste heat. Alternative solutions such as energy communities are mentioned in the document, too. Although no concrete numbers are cited yet, it is essential that we establish large-scale goals for the transition, in line with those proposed by Mr Cuffe. We need a switch to renewable energies on a large scale, not only at the level of individual dwellings. 

To round things up, the upcoming recast of the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) is about to set mandatory energy-saving targets for EU states. Among other actions, in its EED proposal, the European Commission demands ramping up the roll-out of heat pumps as of 2024, replacing fossil fuel boilers. A recent RAP study estimates that replacing old fossil fuel boilers with heat pumps would lead to energy savings between 4 to 8 times higher than installing new, more modern fossil fuel boilers instead.

These measures echo calls by climate campaigners, who have been demanding a hard stance against gas and oil boilers for years. Recently, even actors in the heating industry have shown their support and readiness for a clean energy transition. 

In a recent webinar with the industry, tech experts explain how different heat pump technologies are ready for a quick and easy swap-out with gas boilers, preparing for widespread decarbonisation in Europe.

Green heating for all

Water and space heating is a massive elephant in the decarbonisation room, responsible for 12% of the total EU emissions, as much as all car transport in the bloc . Transitioning the heating and cooling sector is a pressing matter transcending security, social, and climate dimensions.

A ban on fossil heating would mean a leap in the fight for decarbonisation, as it would avoid the lock-in effect of installing new boilers, usually in service for about 20 years. Enshrining the end of fossil fuel boilers in the EPBD would be vital because it is the only EU policy that addresses energy efficiency and GHG emissions at the building level.

With the current fossil fuel crisis, energy poverty rates, and the climate emergency we face, the end of fossil heating is the turning point we need – as laid out in the manifesto signed by major EU NGOs a few months ago.

Phasing out as soon as possible – not by 2029

On REPowerEU. The Commission has preliminarily set the phase-out date for new fossil fuel boilers for 2029 – it is a clear positive signal to the market… but 2029 is just too late. Countries such as the Netherlands and Germany have set earlier phase-out dates. ECOS, EEB, and other NGOs across Europe have repeatedly called for a phase-out by 2025, at the latest. With EU climate targets set for 2030, a ban at the eleventh hour in 2029 would in fact barely show any effect.

On the EPBD. The Cuffe report includes measures that would put Europe on track to achieving the Paris Agreement targets as far as heating is concerned. While a step forward, the ambition must be kept, if not furthered, through the negotiation rounds at the Parliament and among national governments, an ongoing process.

What’s next? 

As part of REPowerEU, the Commission’s EU Save Plan called on member states to take actions toward a short-term energy demand reduction. Brussels requested that capitals send long-term energy-saving plans on 1 July, and that they foster stakeholder engagement, creating partnerships to boost energy savings.

The EPBD is currently being discussed at the European Parliament and the Council. On 27 June, national ministers will gather at an Energy Council . In a joint letter, 16 national and international NGOs have called to further climate ambitions for the EPBD, including the phase-out of fossil heating from European buildings. Following this, the file will return to the Parliament (concretely, to the ITRE Committee), where ambitions set forward by the draft report must be kept if not improved in the final version. The file will go to plenary vote at the Parliament before the end of 2022.