Fossil fuel heating to become fossilised tech?

EU legislation could soon be sending fossil fuel boilers to history books. The latest draft Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) echoed REPowerEU in the call to ban fossil heating by latest 2035. Is the EU on track to clearing one of the largest hurdles to the Paris Agreement goals? – Ivo Cabral and Bich Dao report.

This article was originally published on Coolproducts blogsite, a campaign co-led by EEB and ECOS.

Today, most buildings in the EU are still heated with oil or gas. But the days of fossil fuel heating might be numbered. As with cassettes or landlines, kids from the next generation will look at old gas boilers and scratch their heads in awe, wondering what these devices are good 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 included a plan to boost energy savings, which marked 2029 as the last year when a new fossil fuel boiler can be retailed on the EU market.

Ecodesign policies would make this ban effective. Ecodesign establishes minimum performance requirements, including energy efficiency, for water and space heaters. 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, leaving fossil fuels effectively outlawed.

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 final date for fossil fuel heating in buildings. Both new and old boilers would need to be uninstalled by then, and be 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 – possibly as soon as 2025. 

Such 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), which is in charge of this file. 

Other ambitious measures included in Mr. Cuffe’s report include EU-wide targets for clean heating and cooling, as well as goals for the deployment of district heating and cooling networks using renewable energy and waste heat. The document also mentions alternative solutions such as energy communities. Although no concrete numbers have been provided, it is critical that renewable transitions like the ones proposed by Mr. Cuffe expand on a large scale, rather than just at the level of individual dwellings. 

These measures echo the demands of climate campaigners, who have been calling for a tough stance against gas and oil boilers for years. Even actors in the heating industry have recently expressed their support, demonstrating their readiness for the clean energy transition.

In a recent Coolproducts 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, or the same as all car transport. Transitioning the heating and cooling sector is a pressing issue 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, which are typically in service for about 20 years. Ending the use of fossil fuel boilers would be critical because the EPBD is the only EU policy that addresses energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions at the building level.

With the current fossil fuel crisis, energy poverty rates, and climate risks, the end to fossil heating is the turning point we need,  as outlined 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 set a preliminary phase-out date for new fossil fuel boilers in 2029 – it is a clear positive signal to the market… but 2029 is far too late. Countries such as the Netherlands and Germany have set earlier phase-out dates for themselves. ECOS, EEB, and other NGOs across Europe have repeatedly called for a phase-out deadline of 2025. With EU climate targets set for 2030, a ban at the eleventh hour in 2029 would have little effect.

On the EPBD. In terms of heating, the Cuffe report includes measures that would put Europe on track to meet the Paris Agreement targets. While a step forward, the ambition must be maintained if not expanded through ongoing negotiations at the Parliament and among national governments.

What’s next? 

As part of REPowerEU, the Commission’s EU Save Plan called on member states to take actions toward short-term energy demand reduction. Brussels requested that capitals send long-term energy saving plans 1st 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. Last Monday June 27, national ministers gathered at an Energy Council of national ministers. In a joint letter, 16 national and international NGOs have called to further the 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 it is once more important that ambitions set forward by the draft report are kept if not improved in the final version. The file will go to plenary vote at the Parliament before the end of 2022.