Time to make the rules for boilers and water heaters fit for climate neutrality

The European Commission is currently reviewing the ecodesign and energy labelling regulations for boilers and water heaters. This represents a unique opportunity to achieve major energy and CO2 savings, as the majority of these appliances run on fossil fuels.

Sadly, European regulators are not being ambitious enough – an attitude at odds with their pledge to become an emission-neutral continent by 2050.

Boilers and water heaters account for almost 80% of EU households energy use, and 75% of them are powered by fossil fuels. Replacing them is not easy as they are long-lasting devices, in use for 20 years or even longer. It is not surprising that half of the boilers in the EU were installed before 1992.

Together, heating and cooling represent 16% of the total EU greenhouse gases emissions. Of all the products regulated through ecodesign and energy labelling, central heating boilers alone represent 20% of the energy consumption (among other impacts).

Space and water heaters are covered both by an ecodesign and an energy labelling regulation adopted in 2013, entering into force gradually since 2015. Agreeing on those rules had taken almost 7 years, but it was very much worth the effort: by 2020, the energy use from central heating will have decreased by 22% compared to 2015, according to EIA estimations.

The time for climate-neutral boilers is now

The European Commission is now reviewing these measures, but the planned changes seem to be only superficial. Unless we increase the level of ambition, not only will we miss out on an opportunity to achieve major savings in the coming decade, but will also fall short of meeting our longer-term climate neutrality objectives for 2050.

In the coming years, many families are expected to replace their heaters, as 22% of installed gas boilers and most central heating appliances are exceeding their technical lifetime. Making sure that they buy planet-friendly boilers to replace their old ones is key, as new purchases will again stay in service for 20 years or more. If we want to be climate neutral by 2050, we must stop putting gas boilers on the market by 2030 at the very latest.

We are still very far from phasing out condensing gas boilers, however, especially considering that they still display an A-class energy label. These boilers are more efficient than older gas appliances but are still powered by fossil fuels.

The Coolproducts campaign is closely following the revision process of the regulations for boilers and water heaters. In particular, we contributed to an impact assessment study initiated in late 2019 by European energy stakeholders. The study sought to pave the way for the revision of legal texts, in order to ease the work of the Ecodesign Consultation Forum. 

 We strongly oppose the idea to set ecodesign and energy labelling requirements to support the decarbonisation of the gas grid with the use of hydrogen. This is simply not an alternative here: in no way can the limited supply of clean hydrogen likely to be available by 2050 be used for domestic heating. We further develop this vision in our op-ed published in Euractiv in February. We will also continue advocating for an early rescaling of the energy label for space heaters, which would downgrade condensing gas boilers further down the efficiency scale.

Our written contributions to the impact assessment study can be found here.