District Heating in focus - EURACTIV Interview with EHP President Birger Lauersen

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine is looking increasingly like a major turning point for EU energy policy, which makes the decarbonisation of heating more urgent than ever before. What are the consequences for district heating?

➡️ Please click here to view this interview, conducted by Frédéric Simon.

Key quotes from EHP President Birger Lauersen:

Is a gas phase-out now becoming a priority for the sector? And how quickly could that be achieved?

First of all, it’s important to underline that the use of natural gas in district heating and the heating sector, in general, is very different from country to country.

There are countries like Sweden, where district heating is well developed, but where natural gas hardly plays a role. And there are countries like the Netherlands where natural gas plays a huge role but where district heating is not much developed. In other countries like Germany, natural gas plays an important role in district heating, also indirectly through the use of gas and combined heat and power (CHP).

And finally, there are countries where natural gas is seen as an insurance solution for the phase-out of coal. And in those countries, coal might be seen in the short term as an alternative option to the use of gas – for instance in the Czech Republic.

So the situations vary widely. In my country, Denmark, we rely on natural gas for approximately 12% of our district heating. And the political environment is focused basically on phasing out gas and replacing it with heat pumps and district heating.

So it’s a very diverse picture across Europe.

What plans does the industry have in order to meet the EU’s decarbonisation targets for 2030 and 2050? Do you have a phase-out deadline for coal?

In 2019, we made the pledge as a sector to fully decarbonise by 2050.

Now, that ambition has very different consequences around Europe and our member associations are currently developing national decarbonisation roadmaps. And that can be a bit challenging for some. Because we are always directly or indirectly dependent on what happens in other sectors.

If a country decides to phase out coal power generation, obviously something else needs to take over. If that coal power is replaced with biomass, you would still have a heat source to use in CHP. But if you replace it with wind energy, then you won’t have a heat source available anymore – and other solutions should prevail. So we’re very dependent on what happens in other sectors.

That said, all our member associations also recognise the necessity to have a sustainable climate neutral product by 2050. And in some countries, both the heat source and the network need to be replaced because they are in a very bad condition. Whereas in countries like Sweden, the infrastructure is in perfect condition and their heat production sources are also relatively modern.

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