Heating and hot water: More and more households are using district heating. But what is it actually and is it climate-friendly at all?

Heating and hot water: More and more households are using district heating.  But what is it actually and is it climate-friendly at all?

2023-06-05 12:48:00

In the fight for more climate protection, district heating should play an important role in the heating sector. However, the road to climate neutrality is still long. Questions and answers.

How can heating and hot water preparation become climate-neutral by 2045? According to the will of the federal government, district heating should play an important role. Around every seventh apartment in Germany is already heated with district heating. And in the future? An overview.

What is district heating anyway?

District heating is heat that is not generated in the residential building, but comes from a power or heating plant in the area. Water is usually heated there, which is then conducted through insulated pipes to the consumers. When it arrives in a residential building, hospital or office building, the energy is transferred to the building’s heat circuit in a transfer station, where it provides room heating and hot water. The buildings do not need their own heating system.

How is the heat generated in the power plants?

According to the district heating trade association AGFW, this is currently mainly through the combustion of natural gas and coal, mostly in so-called combined heat and power generation, in which electricity is also generated in addition to heat. Around 70 percent of the energy comes from fossil fuels. The remaining 30 percent is heat from the incineration of waste or biomass (wood chips) as well as from geothermal energy and other renewable sources. STERN PAID heat pump alternatives (C+) 8.21

How many district heating networks are there in Germany?

According to the district heating association AGFW, almost 3,800. They are operated by around 500 companies. In 2020, the total route length was over 31,000 kilometers. According to the energy industry association BDEW, 14.2 percent of the 43.1 million apartments in Germany were heated with district heating in 2022, which is about every seventh apartment. The proportion has steadily increased over the past 20 years. In 2003 it was 12.4 percent.

How climate-friendly is district heating?

According to the consumer center, this varies greatly depending on the energy source, the efficiency of generation in the power plant and the level of line losses. “The use of combined heat and power has a high energy yield, and the use of waste heat, which is produced, for example, by incinerating waste, makes sense.” Electrical heating with fan heaters and Co 14.55

As with electricity, can households switch district heating providers?

No. “In the case of district heating, it is not possible to change the heat supplier,” explains the consumer center. Planning and operation of the power plant and the grid would be in the hands of one company. The construction of a double infrastructure by another company is uneconomical. “Therefore, every district heating company is a local monopolist.” The consumer advocates point out that municipalities provide for compulsory connection and use for some properties. “As the owner, you are then forced to supply your house with district heating.” The legal basis for the use of district heating is bundled in a separate ordinance.

When is district heating suitable?

According to the consumer center, district heating pays off when as many users as possible are connected to the heating network. “Because the laying of the grids and the construction of the generating plants are usually associated with considerable costs.” District heating is therefore particularly suitable in densely populated (new building) areas. GEG and the home 06-15

How does the federal government rate district heating?

As very important. In the first draft law for municipal heating planning, which became known recently, the Federal Ministry of Building states: “The expansion of district heating and the decarbonization of the pipe-bound heat supply are of outstanding importance for achieving the climate protection goals of the federal government.” In recent years, the investments required for this have not been made to the required extent. The expansion is to be laid down in the law: “Heating networks should be significantly expanded in order to achieve an economically cost-efficient, climate-neutral heat supply and the number of buildings connected to heating networks should be increased significantly and dynamically,” says the draft bill.

In the planned building energy law, the so-called heating law, specifications for heating networks are also planned. There should be an obligation to use at least 50 percent renewable heat or waste heat in existing heating networks by 2030. A share of 65 percent is to be demanded for new heating networks.

What does the industry think of an expansion?

By 2050, under certain conditions, it believes that there will be three times as many heating grid connections as possible today. While 6 million of the 43 million apartments are currently heated with district heating, there could be 18 to 20 million in the future, especially in apartment buildings in cities and in densely populated areas. “District heating is the key to the issue of climate-neutral cities in Germany,” says the deputy managing director of the AGFW trade association, John Miller.

The association criticizes the schedule provided for in the Building Energy Act to convert existing heating networks to at least 50 percent renewable heat or waste heat by 2030. The association calls for longer transition periods and significantly more funding, especially for the “Federal Funding for Efficient Heating Networks” (BEW) program.

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