The path towards heating decarbonisation is paved with highly efficient electric heat pumps and solar energy. Nonetheless, some see a role for biomass in the transition, considering it a renewable solution. Is it though? In a new Coolproducts report, ECOS experts offer recommendations on how solid fuel heating can become a rarely used solution in the EU instead of a widespread problem.

We need to reduce heating demand by insulating our homes better, and drastically improving the efficiency of the appliances we use. It is time for a switch to electric heat pumps and solar heating.

For houses where a switch to renewables is not possible, solid fuel heating will still play a role, provided that only the least polluting appliances available are used. While wood and biomass are often seen as a potential solution for heating, they should be only be used sparingly. They are renewable under certain conditions but have a substantial climate impact and exacerbate air pollution issues, not to mention the pressure they pose on forest ecosystems.

The wood-burning policy conundrum comprises a plethora of laws and policy objectives ranging from the sourcing of wood and forest management practices, to the role of bioenergy in reaching carbon neutrality, or the design of heating appliances.

Emissions from domestic heating are under-regulated in the EU despite their impacts on air quality and health, especially when compared to other pollution sources such as car traffic. Policies affecting wood-burning and air quality must be well aligned to realise the EU’s climate objectives.

EU ecodesign and energy labelling policies already play a role in minimising the environmental impact of solid fuel heating. A window of opportunity will soon open as the European Commission will be reviewing legislations for solid fuel local space heaters and boilers.

In this paper, we analyse the current rules and identify what ecodesign and energy labelling should do to minimise the environmental impact of heating from solid fuel sources.

Main ECOS / Coolproducts recommendations:

  1. Ambitious ecodesign requirements must give incentives for companies to develop cleaner appliances (some stoves and boilers already overperform the current requirements). Rules must tackle aspects related to both pollutant emissions and energy efficiency. The scope of the regulations should be broadened as to include all impactful appliances.
  • The introduction of emission-class categorisation must be explored. It could be combined with a fuel quality label and clear guidance in user manuals, helping users reduce health and climate impacts.
  • Measurement standards should be improved and harmonised to explicitly support ecodesign and energy labelling regulations.

Read our report: Out of the woods – Using ecodesign to reduce the negative impacts of solid fuel heating

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With the support of thr European Union (LIFE Programme and European COmmission). This work reflects the author's views and does not commit donors.