EU must end fossil fuel heating by 2025

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Heating is one of the EU’s most energy-hungry sectors. 28%of the total energy consumed in the EU is used for space and water, write Mélissa zill and Davide Sabbadin. [Braslavets Denys / Shutterstock]

Ecodesign and energy labelling will deliver a third of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions target – but the European Commission is dodging the chance to set heating on the right path, by greenlighting the sale of polluting gas boilers beyond 2030, write Mélissa Zill and Davide Sabbadin.

Mélissa Zill is the programme manager at ECOS; Davide Sabbadin is a policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). Together, the EEB and ECOS lead the Coolproducts campaign – a coalition of NGOs working to ensure better products for consumers and the planet. 

Last July, we heard fine words from Commissioners on how ‘the fossil fuel economy has reached its limits’ (von der Leyen); how ‘getting to a green and healthy future for all will require considerable effort in every sector and every member state’ (Timmermans) and how ‘reaching the Green Deal goals will not be possible without reshaping our energy system’ (Simson).

This is all true. This is why we are surprised to see that the recently released proposals for space and water heaters in the EU contain no plans to end the sales of polluting, fossil-fuel-based heating equipment.

With the average lifetime of domestic gas boilers being over 20 years, millions of European homes could still be heated by fossil fuels well past the point at which the EU is supposed to have reached net zero.

Heating is one of the EU’s most energy-hungry sectors. 28%of the total energy consumed in the EU is used for space and water. That is why ecodesign and energy labelling regulations (which apply to dozens of home appliances and electronics, including heating appliances) are thought to have been responsible for achieving a quarter of the EU’s 2020 emissions reduction targets, and nearly half of the EU’s 2020 energy savings.

According to our calculations at ECOS on behalf of the Coolproducts campaign, removing fossil fuel boilers from the EU market by 2025 would bring about 110 Mt of annual CO2 savings by 2050, compared to carrying on as normal with the current legislation in place.

This nearly represents a staggering two-thirds of the emission reductions needed from residential and public buildings by 2050.

This is why the meeting of the Consultation Forum of technical experts from EU members states, taking place today, is so important. It is an essential measure if we are to decarbonise our buildings in the coming decade: this is why the stakes are high and invariably political.

The eventual outcome will affect the sale of millions of heating products across the EU and the decisions made will send a clear signal that the days of fossil fuel heating are numbered – or not.

The decision will depend on hugely important technical details. Renewable-sourced heating is by far the most efficient kind. But you will not see an effective end to the sales of new fossil fuel heating appliances unless the ‘minimum seasonal space heating efficiency’ under ecodesign is set at above 110%, which is a performance only achieved by renewable heating.

The current proposal foresees appliances with much lower operational efficiency being used in homes well into the 2050s, given their likely lifetime.

To be credible in matching the soaring rhetoric of July, we want to see proposals to phase out sales of the products in the F and G energy classes after 2025 – and that means banning the installation of all appliances that work only on fossil fuels.

Member states must now speak up at the Consultation Forum to improve the ambition of the proposed regulation. There are two very good reasons why this should happen.

First, the International Energy Agency (IEA) itself recommended back in May that, if we are to reach climate neutrality by 2050, countries should start phasing out the sales of new fossil-fuel boilers as of 2025.

Second, at least seven member states are already planning fossil-fuel boiler phase-outs and it is very difficult for them to do this if the single market is still permitting certain classes of products.

The EU is well placed to begin this global transition. But if we do not act now, we will suffer the consequences well beyond 2050. It’s simple maths.

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