District Energy in Germany

  • Country Profiles
  • 15 November 2019

The market share of DH in the total heat market in the residential sector in Germany is 13.8 %. A considerable difference can be noted between flats, of which 13.5 % are heated by DH, and residential buildings, of which 5.2 % are supplied with heat from a DH network. The number increases significantly for new connections: based on permits issued for new constructions in 2017, 7.7 % of buildings and approx. 25% of flats ware connected to a District Heating network. While there is room for further growth of the market share, Germany (together with Poland) still remains the biggest market for District Heating and Cooling in the EU in terms of absolute figures. Despite the ongoing decline in heat demand due to thermal insulation measures, the retrofit of old buildings and demographic changes, the District Heating share within the overall heat market is steadily growing.


The fall in heat demand is compensated for by the densification of existing District Heating networks in urban areas, opening up development areas with isolated networks and local small-scale District Heating and contracting projects. As an indicator of this development, the number of customer installations (from 356,219 in 2013 to 371,914 in 2015 and 377,184 in 2017) and the length of DH pipes has continuously increased (from 20,219 km in 2013 to 21,270 km in 2015 and 21,611 in 2017). Whereas the average connected load per substation has decreased (141 kW in 2013, 138 kW in 2015 and 136 kW in 2017).


Heat generation in CHP plants accounts for a significant amount of the overall generation (83 % in 2017). The deployment of RES and waste heat is continuously progressing, albeit at a slow pace. The decision to set new and prolonged objectives for the developments of CHP plants and maintaining the support for deployment of DH networks and storage in the CHP Act from 2017 was therefore widely endorsed. The acknowledgment of the role DHC plays in the energy transition is more visible in politics too.


Even though several studies have been published underlying the necessity of the development of District Heating networks, in order to achieve the overarching decarbonisation targets, an integrated strategy for deployment of DHC on the national level is still missing. The German federal government targets the increase of the share of RES in DHC sector in the draft of the National Energy and Climate Plan aiming at the fulfilment of the Governance Regulation (2018/1999). The share of renewable energy sources and waste heat will reach 30 % in 2030 accordingly.




Fossil fuels still dominate the heat market, although the share of renewable energy is on a continuous rise. In 2017, the share of renewable energy in District Heating consumption in Germany was 12 %. This includes especially the biodegradable part of waste, biomass (solid and gaseous) and geothermal energy. With respect to renewable fuels in CHP heat production, the methodology of collecting data has changed since 2007. In 2011, 5.3 % of the CHP heat fed into District Heating grids was generated from renewable energy sources and the share increased to 11 % in 2015 and 2017.



The share of coal in the DH market decreased dramatically from 58 % in 2003 to 35.7 % in 2017. Golden years for the second most important fuel in DH market, the natural gas, was from 2006 to 2010 with its peak share at 49.73 % in 2007. Since 2010, the share of natural gas has slightly decreased and contributed to the energy mix by 38 % in 2017. This is an increase in comparison to 2015, when 32 % of the heat was generated in gas fired plants (CHP and non-CHP). The current market situation, mostly influenced by the feed-in premiums for electricity from renewable energy sources, put a lot of stress on the economic viability of operating CHP plants fired with natural gas. However, the transformation of coal plants into gas-fired plants is incentivised by a surcharge provided by the CHP Act.



Heat from waste-to-energy CHP plants increased from 3.4 % in 2003, reaching the share of 11,6 in 2017 (both biodegradable and non-biodegradable). 2 % of the heat fed into DH grids was industrial waste heat.



The District Cooling sector in Germany develops at a much slower pace than District Heating. However, the first effects of the sector’s efforts can be observed. The installed District Cooling capacity increased significantly between the years 2011 and 2017 (by 62 %). In the same period the sales of cooling rose by 69 %. There are 22 km of new District Cooling pipes comparing the years 2011 and 2017 (17 km build since 2013).



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Germany is also involved in our #DHCities🏙️ initiative:



For more information on the impact of district energy at a local level, explore our #DHCities🏙️ map, featuring DHC decarbonisation success stories from over 35 European cities: euroheat.org/map


Useful links:

Energy Efficiency Association for Heating, Cooling and CHP (AGFW)

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