Questions & Answers: The Heating Act is intended to pave the way for climate-friendly heating

Questions & Answers: The Heating Act is intended to pave the way for climate-friendly heating

The Heating Act is on the home stretch – as a central traffic light project on the way to a climate-friendly heat supply. There was a lot of dispute about the exact regulations. What came out?

The heating law, which has been discussed for months, is expected to be passed by the Bundestag today. It is intended to ensure that more and more apartments and buildings will be heated in a climate-friendly manner in the future. The law is officially called the “Building Energy Act” (GEG). It prescribes a gradual replacement of oil and gas heating systems that run on fossil fuels such as heating oil or natural gas.

What are the key points?

From January 2024, every newly installed heating system should, if possible, be operated with at least 65 percent renewable energy. From 2024 onwards, the GEG regulations will only apply to new development areas. Existing heating systems should continue to run and can also be repaired. In other words: “There is no immediate obligation to replace existing heating systems,” emphasizes the federal government. There are transition periods and exceptions.

Older homeowners or those with little money should not be overwhelmed. Under certain conditions, the state will cover up to 70 percent of the costs for a new heating system. The maximum eligible costs for a single-family home, for example, should be 30,000 euros. The maximum state subsidy is therefore 21,000 euros. There should also be low-interest loans. Associations are calling for improvements to the new funding program.

What should happen to existing heating systems?

The pivotal point for existing heating systems should be mandatory and comprehensive municipal heating planning. Only when this is available will the requirements of the law for heating with at least 65 percent renewable energy also apply to existing buildings. Homeowners can then decide what to do.

If there are no heat plans yet, cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants should have until mid-2026 to develop their heat plans, according to the draft heat planning law. All other municipalities that do not yet have plans should submit them by June 30, 2028. Smaller communities with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants should be able to carry out a simplified heat planning process.

Such a municipal heating plan should, for example, show whether there is or will be a climate-friendly district heating supply to which a building can be connected. According to the federal government, this should provide “planning and investment security”. The Heating Act and the Heat Planning Act are therefore closely linked to one another. Both laws are scheduled to come into force on January 1, 2024.

What do new heaters have to be able to do?

The federal government says that the law is designed to be “technology-neutral.” This would allow owners to mathematically prove the required renewable energy share of at least 65 percent. The law provides other options for achieving this share: a district heating connection, an electric heat pump, direct electricity heating or heating based on solar thermal energy. Hybrid heating, i.e. a combination of renewable heating and a gas or oil boiler, is also possible.

Under certain conditions, there is also the option of so-called hydrogen-capable gas heaters, which can be converted to 100 percent hydrogen. Biomass heating or gas heating that uses renewable gases such as biomethane, biogenic liquid gas or hydrogen is possible for existing buildings.

There are also climate regulations for new systems that are installed in existing buildings in the absence of heat plans during the transition period until mid-2026 or mid-2028. From 2029, they will have to use an increasing proportion of biomass or hydrogen to generate heat. From 2029 it will be at least 15 percent, from 2035 at least 30 percent and from 2040 at least 60 percent.

What transition periods are there?

If a natural gas or oil heating system is broken beyond repair, there should be a transition period – according to the amendments, this also applies to planned heating replacements. During the transition period of five years, heating systems that do not meet the requirements of 65 percent renewable energy can be installed, set up and operated. After the deadline, local heat plans should be available on site, on the basis of which citizens should decide on suitable climate-friendly heating.

What about the operating costs for rental apartments?

The law is intended to protect tenants, as the coalition factions’ amendment states. So far, landlords have been allowed to pass on a maximum of 8 percent of the costs for a modernization measure to the annual rent, for example if they are renovating an apartment. A new modernization levy is now anchored in the GEG.

Landlords should be able to pass on 10 percent of the investment costs for replacing the heating system to the tenant – but the condition is that government funding is claimed and the funding amount is deducted from the costs that can be passed on. This is intended to give landlords incentives to replace heating systems. At the same time, there is a cap: the monthly rent should not increase by more than 50 cents per square meter of living space due to a new heating system. If further modernization measures are added, it could be two to three euros, as before.

What else is in the law?

Among other things, the Heating Act provides for an obligation to provide advice. It comes into play when new heaters are to be installed that run on solid, liquid or gaseous fuels. The advice should point out possible effects of heat planning as well as possible inefficiency, especially due to rising CO2 prices.

How long can fossil fuels be used for heating?

According to the Heating Act until December 31, 2044. From 2045 onwards, buildings may only be heated in a climate-neutral manner using renewable energies.

How do German citizens heat at the moment?

Especially with gas. According to the energy industry association BDEW, almost half of the 43 million apartments and single-family homes were heated with natural gas in 2022. Oil heating is in second place with almost a quarter. District heating ranks third with a good 14 percent. Electric heat pumps have increased. While their share was 2.0 percent in 2017, it is now 3.0 percent. Electric heating provided heat in 2.6 percent of all apartments in 2022. Other types of heating such as wood pellets, solar thermal energy or coke and coal accounted for 6.2 percent.

What do energy consultants recommend to homeowners as the best type of heating?

The North Rhine-Westphalia Consumer Center generally recommends environmentally friendly heating with renewable energies. A change often pays off quickly because of “attractive funding programs”. In addition, the CO2 tax and the increased fuel prices made heating with fossil fuels significantly more expensive every year.

The law should actually be passed before the summer break. Why is it only now on the agenda?

In an urgent procedure, the Federal Constitutional Court had banned adoption before the summer break. It had doubts as to whether the rights of members of the Bundestag were sufficiently protected. CDU MP Thomas Heilmann submitted the application for an interim order because of the tight schedule in the legislative process. The coalition then decided that the law should be passed in the Bundestag after the summer break at the beginning of September.

A request from the opposition on Tuesday not to put the Building Energy Act on Friday’s agenda was unsuccessful. It was rejected by the coalition factions SPD, Greens and FDP. Heilmann said he thought the final reading in the Bundestag alone was not sufficient. If the government does not take action, it would pass a formally unconstitutional law. There was also a lot of controversy within the governing coalition about the law. Under pressure from the FDP in particular, there had been fundamental changes to the original plans.

After the Bundestag resolution, the law goes to the Bundesrat. It is likely that it will pass the state chamber at the end of September.

Source: Stern

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