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Robert Habeck

Photo: Florian Gaertner / IMAGO/photothek

If entire streets or districts are connected to the district heating network, homeowners should not have to install a heat pump when replacing the heating system. According to a report in the "Augsburger Allgemeine", this emerges from a draft resolution by Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck (Greens) for a meeting with municipalities and industry representatives. If a heating network operator pursues such an expansion in a binding manner, building owners interested in it (...) should be exempted from the obligation to install a heating system that meets the 65 percent requirement for renewable energies," the paper says.

Habeck and Construction Minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) have invited representatives of the industry to the meeting on Monday in Berlin. This is intended to send a "clear signal of departure" for the climate-neutral conversion and expansion of the district heating supply, as it was said in advance.

The municipal utilities association VKU still sees hurdles for an expansion of district heating. Chief Executive Ingbert Liebing demands, among other things, a longer, billion-dollar state subsidy. He told the German Press Agency before the "district heating summit": "It is good that the federal government is declaring that we want to advance district heating. But then hurdles must also be removed. I expect the district heating summit to provide a significant impetus and concrete proposals."

VKU calls for annual billions in funding

"There are still many obstacles to the expansion of district heating," said Liebing. "But district heating should and will have to make a significant contribution to ensuring that we achieve the heat transition as a whole." There should be no focus only on the heat pump. "As everyone knows, it will only be a solution when viewed realistically."

"There must be an interlocking of the Building Energy Act with municipal heat planning," said Liebing. "In the end, the expansion of district heating on site will be decided by the suppliers and the municipalities, which must create clarity for the customers and for the network operators. Where do you see potential for district heating, and where less? Where is it more about electrical solutions? Or where is the transition from a gas to a hydrogen network going? This is the essential starting point for us to make rapid progress with the heat plans."

The VKU sees a potential for doubling or tripling in district heating. "But that takes time and they are capital-intensive projects. That's why it will also be about financing issues." Federal funding for efficient heating networks will expire in 2026. Long-term funding is necessary. So far, a total of three billion euros have been in the pot until 2026. "But we need these three billion euros annually in state funding until the mid-thirties."

On the one hand, the Federal Government is planning a reform of the Building Energy Act – the so-called Heating Act – as well as a reform of municipal heat planning. According to the draft law, states and municipalities are to present concrete plans in the coming years on how they want to convert their heating infrastructure to be climate-neutral. This is intended to provide citizens with important guidance by finding out whether their house will soon be connected to a district or local heating network – or whether they should convert their heating to a heat pump or other options in the foreseeable future.

  • An overview of the planned Heating Act can be found here: Coalition partners wrestle with Building Energy Act

Gerd Landsberg, Managing Director of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities, also called in the "Rheinische Post" (Monday) for a dovetailing of municipal heat planning with the Building Energy Act. At the same time, it would have to be regulated by the federal states that when establishing a local or district heating network, there is usually also a connection and use obligation in order to ensure the economic efficiency of the systems," said Landsberg.

The Deputy Managing Director of the German Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Achim Dercks, told dpa: "Many companies see district heating as an opportunity for the climate-friendly supply of their buildings or entire industrial estates." That is why it is right to focus more on the expansion and conversion of the grid-based heat supply. "However, as the feedback from local companies shows, acceptance of this depends on important prerequisites: The focus is on competitive prices that can be calculated in the long term."

The German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW) sees district heating as a "central building block for a successful heat transition". This applies not only to cities, but also offers potential in rural areas, said the chairwoman of the BDEW Executive Board, Kerstin Andreae, of the "Rheinische Post". In order to accelerate the expansion, however, we need a tailwind from the federal government." From the point of view of the energy industry, a stable, reliable and adequate funding framework is necessary.

The consumer centres are calling for more transparency on the district heating market. Heating networks are a market "where the providers have practically unregulated monopolies," said the head of the association, Ramona Pop, to the newspapers of the Funke media group. District heating can be an important building block for the decarbonization of heat supply," Pop emphasized. However, there is an urgent need for better framework conditions for consumers.