Norman Gerhardt from the Fraunhofer Institut calls for a change in attitudes

“The heating sector is the sleeping giant”

Reforming energy policies in Germany: a reduction of 78 million tonnes in greenhouse gases is to be achieved by 2020 to comply with the German government’s climate protection targets. Of this, savings of 30 million tonnes are to be achieved by improving energy efficiency in buildings. It is not possible to achieve this just with good insulation; the issue of heat generation in the home is equally important at the very least. Scientists and other experts are insistently calling for a “turnaround in heating”. What does this mean? Norman Gerhardt from the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology IWES gives us his views on this issue.

Norman Gerhardt, what you’re telling us is that a reform in energy policies is only possible with a “turnaround in heating”. Why?

The goal is to reduce CO2 – we all understand that. However the subject of heating is unfortunately a sleeping giant in this debate. We can only make a significant reduction in CO2 emissions in the heating sector by using electricity from renewable sources. Actually, it would be quite simple: do away with oil heating and install efficient heating technology like heat pumps in homes. “Power-to-heat”, i.e. using electricity in order to provide heat. It is regrettable but many people have a negative attitude towards electricity. They often think of old storage heaters instead of modern and, above all, efficient heating technology. People must change their attitude towards this. In the long term, using a high proportion of electricity generated from renewable sources will be absolutely essential – Germany needs a turnaround in heating. This will make it important to rely on efficient technology like heat pumps. Photovoltaics should also not be left out of this either. Generation of electricity, using and storing it sensibly will be our future. Mark my words, in future we will be using a lot of electricity. It is all the more important to manage energy consumption efficiently. The technology to do this is already available today.

Why hasn’t it been put to use sufficiently before now?

The underlying conditions at the moment are not consistent: the differences in costs act as an obstruction to increased use of green electricity. This means: electricity alone bears the burden of the costs from the reform in energy policies and is therefore too expensive – in particular when compared with fossil fuels. This obviously calls for politicians to take action!

In your opinion, how could these challenges be met?

I consider heat pumps to be the key technology for homes, and also for commerce and industry. The numbers of heat pumps must be continually increased. One step in the right direction would be further, consistent subsidies for heat pumps. Another possible idea could be revenue-neutral restructuring of the tax on electricity resulting in an increase in the energy tax on heating oil and gas. I could also imagine CO2 charges or a CO2-related energy tax on fossil fuels. Support like this from the government would make it easier to change people’s attitudes – the turnaround in heating would finally be able to get underway.


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