Feeling the heat: Why EU climate targets depend on ditching boilers

(EurActiv, 29 Mar 2019) The European Union has set a target of increasing renewables in heating and cooling by 1.3% every year starting in 2021. Given the pervasiveness of gas heat, it may be a struggle.

Why do home heating boilers always choose the middle of winter as the time to break down? It’s one of life’s great mysteries, and anyone who’s been through it knows it’s not a fun experience. When the heat goes out, all we can think about it getting it back on – fast.

Even if we’re vaguely aware that gas boilers are bad for the climate, at that moment it’s not at top of mind. If the technician says you need a new unit, you’re going to pick the one that’s the cheapest and fastest to install.

“When the boiler breaks in the winter time, you need a quick fix, so you replace a gas boiler with a gas boiler,” says Irene di Padua, from industry association Solar Heat Europe. “If you want to switch to something better, you need to plan in advance and do it in the summer. But if citizens aren’t aware of all the alternatives they can use instead of a gas boiler, this shift won’t happen.”

Di Padua represents the companies working in solar thermal energy, and she is pushing EU lawmakers to make it easier and more affordable for individual citizens as well as offices and cities to switch to solar to heat their homes.

The problem is that this can be a long and costly process. A solar collector unit, which uses thermal energy to generate heat, can be used for both hot water and space heating – and in factories it can be used for industrial purposes.

But it’s a different system than a gas boiler, and so it can’t be easily swapped out. And for a complete replacement planning is needed since the whole building’s system may need some changes. The switch isn’t going to happen on its own.

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EurActiv, 29 Mar 2019: Feeling the heat: Why EU climate targets depend on ditching boilers