Individual Fossil Fuel Central Heating Banned in EU from 2025

Energy - March 28, 2024

The European Parliament recently adopted a ban on subsidising individual fossil fuel central heating systems from 2025. The law marks the beginning of the end for this type of heating, currently used in an estimated 65 million homes across Europe. In the coming period, all member states will have to pass laws that will effectively phase out this form of home heating and replace it with a cleaner, green energy source. A number of countries have already taken steps to ban such apartment heating systems to meet their energy-saving targets. Take Austria, for example, where such a law came into force earlier this year.

Gas-fired power central heating systems responsible for 36% of greenhouse gas emissions

Gas-fired power central heating systems are now widely used in most households in Europe to provide heat and hot water in Europeans’ homes, and their numbers have increased significantly over the last 20 years. According to the European Commission, gas-fired central heating systems produce 40% of the final energy needed for this purpose and are also responsible for 36% of greenhouse gas emissions. To meet its climate targets, the European Union considers it necessary to phase them out completely by 2040. Until then, starting next year, countries will no longer be able to subsidise this type of heating. However, for a period of time, financial support will be available for the installation of hybrid systems, which combine a gas-fired plant with a solar or heat pump heating system. Member states will also have to implement a series of energy-saving measures, up to at least 16% by 2030 and at least 20-22% by 2035.

Under the new directive, Member States will have to renovate 16% of the worst performing non-residential buildings by 2030 and 26% by 2033. It also recommends – to the extent technically and economically feasible – that Member States phase in the use of solar panels in public and non-residential buildings according to their size, as well as in all new residential buildings by 2030. The regulation also allows Member States to exempt agricultural and heritage buildings, buildings with special architectural or historical qualities, churches and buildings in temporary use from these obligations.

Gas-fired individual central heating systems can no longer be installed in new homes in Romania 

To achieve its decarbonisation targets, the EU wants to replace apartment central heating systems with heat pumps or centralised systems using solar, geothermal or wind energy. But the costs of this replacement process are high and, in some countries, such as Romania, impossible to impose on the population. This is why the Romanian authorities have gone through a gradual process, which now stipulates that such plants can no longer be installed in new collective housing. According to a 2023 document from the Ministry of Energy in Bucharest, Romania has 7.5 million inhabited dwellings (just over half of which are individual and the rest condominiums). Of these, almost a third – 2.5 million – are heated directly by natural gas, using central apartment heating systems, and only 1.2 million are connected to a centralised heating system. A significant proportion of Romanians’ homes – 3.5 million, mostly in rural areas – are heated with solid fuel – wood or coal, and the rest – a relatively small number of around 300,000 homes – with liquid fuels – LPG, fuel oil or diesel, or electricity.  At present, the installation of individual gas-fired central heating systems is prohibited only for newly built collective dwellings. Local authorities are, however, making progress in increasing the energy efficiency of old buildings, with a very significant chapter in the NRDP dedicated to this purpose, and to ensure, as far as possible, green heating of public buildings.  At the same time, seven Member States have already taken steps to ban gas-fired central heating systems in buildings. 

Denmark has banned the connection of new buildings to the natural gas network since 2013 and has set a target of connecting half of them to the central heating network by 2028. Norway has banned the connection of new buildings to the natural gas network since 2017 and the Netherlands since 2018. France has banned the installation of gas and oil-fired central heating systems from 2022, while Belgium bans the installation of fossil fuel central heating systems in new buildings from next year.  Germany has made it compulsory from 2024 for 64% of the energy used in new heating systems to come from renewable energy, but has banned the installation of gas and oil heating systems from 2022. Last but not least, Austria has since the beginning of this year banned the repair of old heating plants and the installation of new ones.  Even in these countries, there is no strict obligation to replace existing heating plants in buildings already constructed. On the other hand, in Austria, as in other countries, generous incentives will be given to those who opt for renewables. 

What are gas-fired central heating systems?

Gas-fired central heating systems are highly efficient heating systems used all over the world to provide heat and hot water in homes and commercial buildings. They consist of a combustion unit that uses natural gas or propane to generate heat, which is then distributed throughout the home via a system of pipes or radiators. The principle of operation of gas-fired plants involves burning gas in a boiler, which heats a thermal medium, usually water or steam. This heat is then distributed to central heating systems or radiators to provide heat to rooms. In addition, gas-fired central heating systems can also be equipped with a domestic water heating system, providing hot water for bathrooms, sinks and other utilities. Advantages of gas-fired central heating systems include high efficiency in heat production, relatively low operating costs and their ability to provide instant heat when needed. They are also less polluting compared to other heating sources such as coal or wood, and have less impact on the environment. However, there are also some safety concerns about gas-fired plants, such as the risk of gas leaks or fire. It is important that they are installed and maintained correctly to minimise these risks. Gas-fired central heating systems are a popular and efficient option for heating homes, offering comfort and reliability in use. With ever-evolving technology, they are becoming more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

Gas-fired central heating systems are considered less polluting than other heating sources such as coal or wood. Although burning natural gas produces carbon dioxide emissions, they are significantly lower than those from more polluting fossil fuels. During the combustion process, gas-fired central heating systems can also emit other pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide, which can affect air quality and human health. Modern central heating systems are equipped with advanced emission abatement technologies that minimise the release of harmful substances into the air, such as nitrogen oxides and fine particles. However, it is important to consider the total environmental impact of natural gas, including emissions associated with its extraction and transportation. Natural gas extraction can have a negative impact on local ecosystems, including the destruction of natural habitats, soil and water contamination and disturbance of wildlife. The use of natural gas as a fuel in domestic central heating systems can lead to continued consumption of this limited fossil fuel, which can impact on available resources and contribute to their overexploitation.

In most EU countries, except for Germany, the percentage of homeowners is higher than that of renters. At the same time, 69% of the European Union’s population lived in owner-occupied housing, while the remaining 31% lived in rented accommodation, with Romanians representing the highest percentage of homeowners in the bloc, according to data published  by the European Statistical Office (Eurostat).