District heating in national Long-Term Strategies

This report aims to understand what role member states envisage for low-carbon district heating systems in their contributions to EU climate neutrality, based on their LTSs.

Modern, low-carbon district heating networks are important vectors for decarbonizing the European heating sector. However, they only supply 12% of residential heating demand in the EU, and face numerous challenges, including inefficiencies and fossil fuel dependency in legacy urban heating systems in Central and Eastern Europe. In the light of the recent Fit for 55 package and RePowerEU plan, efficient district heating systems are increasingly in focus as a tool for decarbonization as well as for energy savings.

The Long-Term Strategies for climate neutrality (LTSs) of Member States vary in the importance they assign to low-carbon district heating systems. Overall, 12 of the 23 Long-Term Strategies published at the time of writing mentioned district heating in a meaningful way, with all 12 pinpointing the use of renewable or waste heat as sources of supply for these networks. Of the other 11 LTSs, some did not cover district heating simply due to it being irrelevant given geographic conditions, such warm climates, while others would benefit from including district heat networks in their long-term decarbonization pathways.

The main finding of this assessment is that, in general, the LTSs provide little detail and few targets or milestones for the penetration of district heating in heating supply or the fuel mix of future networks, even in Member States with significant needs for modernization of their existing legacy networks. The extent to which the role of district heating systems in LTSs is explored varies across these Member States, as well as across without legacy systems but where district heating is a feasible heating solution. Few strategies explore the role of 4th -generation district heating, thermal storage, or district cooling. Less than half propose financial instruments for enabling low-carbon district heating, and only two mention R&D. A key conclusion of this analysis is that district heating is insufficiently explored as a measure for decarbonizing residential heating supply, risking a gap in climate ambition particularly for Member States with existing extensive district heating networks.

The main recommendation of this analysis is for Member States with district heating potential to solidify a commitment to deploying district heating networks as decarbonization measures, by putting forward clear commitments and targets in their LTSs, based on an assessment of their national circumstances. These targets should be aligned with other national and European decarbonization strategies and integrated with clear support mechanisms for developing, modernizing and innovating district heating infrastructure. As visions for a climateneutral future, Member States’ LTSs can become credible launchpads for efficient, low-carbon and reliable district heating systems as part of a decarbonized residential heating system.

District heating in national Long-Term Strategies.pdf

Miu, L.; Nazare, D.; Diaconu, D. (2022): District heating in national Long-Term Strategies. Energy Policy Group, Bucharest.

Luciana Miu
Diana Nazare
Denisa Diaconu
(Energy Policy Group)
Date of Publication: