The future of the heating market belongs to electricity

Studies demonstrate the potential of efficient power-to-heat technologies

With the reform in energy policies, Germany intends to ready itself to ensure a sustainable supply and efficient use of energy. Expanding renewable energies has already had a positive impact on levels of emissions. However, in order to achieve the established targets of cutting CO2 emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, the potential for reducing CO2 by using decentralised and centralised heat generation must be included in the equation. This conclusion was arrived at by a current study from the Power Engineering Society at the VDE (the German Association for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies) and a study commissioned by the Lower Saxony Ministry for the Environment, Energy and Climate Protection, which was conducted jointly by the Clausthal Institute of Environmental Technology (CUTEC), the Lower Saxony Energy Research Centre (Energie-Forschungszentrum Niedersachsen), the Ostfalia University of Applied Sciences and the Institute for Environmental Planning at the Leibniz University in Hanover. “This affirms what we have long called for”, says Rudolf Sonnemann, managing director at Stiebel Eltron.

In order to drive an increase in energy supply that reduces greenhouse gases and to find a replacement for fossil fuels, using electricity to generate heat is unavoidable. “Studies demonstrate that the technical power-to-heat solutions play a key role, heat pumps in particular”, according to Rudolf Sonnemann. However, the managing director at Stiebel Eltron, a German mid-sized company and one of the world’s leading companies in the field of renewable energies for HVAC, criticises politicians’ reluctance to commit themselves to calling for modern technologies in this area: “Politicians have done far too little so far to achieve efficient use of electricity in the meeting market. The current studies clearly demonstrate that there is an urgent need for action on the political level. At the present time, it is not possible to operate many practical and efficient power-to-heat applications on an economical basis, because the price of electricity is an obstacle to buying and using them.” And this is despite the fact that the heating sector in particular offers great potential for cushioning the fluctuations that are unavoidable with environmentally friendly power generation due to weather conditions. On the one hand, a major share of energy consumption comes from heating. According to a study commissioned by the Lower Saxony Minister for the Environment, Energy and Climate Protection, building energy alone, especially for heating and hot water, accounts for almost 40 per cent of the final energy requirement. On the other hand, there are simple solutions available for thermal storage when it comes to heat.

In contrast, biomass is only suitable for providing heat and hot water as an exception. According to the study conducted in Lower Saxony, potential is limited – only 6 per cent of primary energy requirements can be covered by this source.

“The technologies for sustainable generation of heat using electricity exist, however politicians must follow up on this”, according to Sonnemann. Until now, the unequal burden posed by the costs for electricity and fossil fuels is hindering investments in energy efficiency. Lowering the tax on electricity and, for instance, introducing a CO2 tax on fossil fuels could make a substantial contribution towards improving use and integration of electricity in the heating market. “Politicians must also push for a turnaround in the heating and building sector. A reform in energy policies can only be implemented successfully with political backing for efficient use of electricity – and the future of the heating market belongs to electricity”, resumes Sonnemann.