14 Aug 2020, 14:12
Alex Dziadosz

Heating remains energy transition's 'forgotten sector' – commentary

While renewables now account for a significant portion of electricity consumption in Germany, energy used for heating and cooling is lagging far behind, Kathrin Witsch writes in Handelsblatt. About half of total energy consumed in Germany is used for purposes such as household heating, refrigerators, heating water, industrial processes and air conditioning, she writes. While green power accounted for about 55 percent of electricity generation in the first half of 2020, about 85 percent of the energy for heating and cooling comes from fossil fuels. In 2019, just 14.5 percent was from renewable sources. The transport sector presents another challenge, as renewables’ share of consumption has actually decreased by 0.2 percent since 2011, added Witsch. “The heating sector, however, is still treated by politicians like the unloved stepchild when it comes to the energy transition,” she adds, pointing to a “half-baked” law on building energy usage.

Witsch points out that heat consumption in residential buildings has been rising, and that a ban on new oil heating systems from 2026 only applies where “climate-friendly heat generation is possible.” Progress in electricity-driven heat pumps has been slower than expected, while energy-efficient renovations of old buildings have also fallen short. Heat for industrial processes – a major component of energy consumption – is also coming almost entirely from fossil fuels. Witsch writes that “more and better” incentive systems, expansion targets and support measures are needed, as well as a “faster and more ambitious” start to CO2 emissions pricing. “If the share of renewables in total energy consumption in Germany is to increase to 30 percent by 2030, a lot has to happen in the heating sector. And now.”

Heating has so far taken a back seat to the German energy transition's poster child, the power sector. But the Wärmewende, or heat transition, is essential for Germany to cut emissions and reach climate neutrality. Key to the transition is phasing out fossil-fuelled heating in nearly 22 million buildings. Getting homeowners, tenants and landlords on board has, however, proven a complicated task.

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