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District heating pipeline in Berlin: fed, for example, by solar thermal energy, biomass or waste heat from industry

Photo: Jürgen Ritter / IMAGO

In the public debate about the heat transition, the heat pump in front of the house is currently the way forward for many. But climate-neutral heating and heating water can also be achieved differently in many places. The district heating industry believes that a tripling of the number of households connected to the heating network is possible by 2050.

"To do this, however, companies need planning security and suitable funding conditions," said John Miller, deputy managing director of the AGFW trade association. Currently, around six million of the 43 million homes are heated with district heating. In the future, the aim is to reach 18 to 20 million, especially in apartment buildings in cities and densely populated areas. "District heating is the key to the topic of climate-neutral cities in Germany. Now is exactly the right time to set the course.«

A large number of renewable sources and technologies could be connected to district heating infrastructure, which would enable the climate neutrality of heating networks by 2045, Miller said. As examples, he cited large-scale heat pumps, geothermal energy, solar thermal energy, biomass or waste heat from industry or data centers. In this context, he highlighted the impact of a switch to renewable energies. If, for example, a coal-fired combined heat and power plant were then operated with climate-neutral fuels or replaced by climate-neutral technologies, thousands of residential units would suddenly have changed fuel.

Association calls for longer transition periods from politicians

Construction Minister Klara Geywitz is also relying heavily on district heating for more climate protection. Such a supply has great potential, especially in the inner cities, said the SPD politician last week in Berlin. A municipal analysis and heat planning is now to ensure that previously unused heat sources are discovered – "for example, wastewater heat, which can then also be harnessed via wastewater heat pumps to supply entire urban areas".

It is possible that there will also be a connection obligation for district heating, Geywitz said. In some municipalities, it is already mandatory to use district heating where it is offered for more climate protection. "As a rule, however, it is not immediately, but when the heating system is replaced," Geywitz said. She also assured that no one who installs a heat pump now will be forced to remove it again in five years if the road is connected to district heating.

Industry representative Miller spoke positively about the importance given to heating networks in the planned laws on building energy and municipal heat planning. "We are glad that politicians have now woken up to some extent and focused on district heating networks."

The association criticises the timetable provided for in the Building Energy Act to convert existing heating networks to at least 2030 percent renewable heat or waste heat by 50. "We don't think it's a good idea to set a deadline for all heating networks," said Miller. The association is calling for longer transition periods and significantly more funding, especially for the "Federal Funding for Efficient Heating Networks" (BEW) program.

According to AGFW, there are around 3800 district heating networks in Germany, which are operated by around 500 companies. The AGFW describes itself as an "energy efficiency association for heating, cooling and combined heat and power". Around 640 companies are members, including most district heating providers.