NAfter a long struggle, the federal government has agreed on a reform of the Building Energy Act (GEG). On Wednesday, the Federal Cabinet discussed the corresponding draft law by Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck (Greens) and Federal Minister of Building Klara Geywitz (SPD). In addition to the details of the implementation of the planned “heat transition”, there are also the cornerstones of the support program, which is intended to make it easier for homeowners to replace the heating system.
Accordingly, it remains the case that from January 1, 2024, only heating systems that are operated with 65 percent renewable energy or are at least designed for it should be installed in Germany. This applies to heating systems in new buildings as well as renovations in existing buildings.
Originally, the traffic light coalition had only planned this innovation for 2025, but brought the reform forward by a year after the start of the Ukraine war. In addition to the electric heat pump preferred by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, hybrid models will be permitted in the future, in which a fossil-based heating system is switched on in addition to the heat pump on particularly cold days.
According to this, heat pumps are permitted as hybrid heating systems “in combination with gas, biomass or liquid fuel firing”. It will be interesting for homeowners in rural areas to find out whether hybrid models with oil support should also fall under this formulation. There is often no gas network in rural areas, and oil heating is widespread there.
Hydrogen control remains unchanged
According to the government’s legislative plans, biomass heating systems such as those that use wood pellets should only be permitted in existing buildings. And that only if they are supplemented with buffer storage tanks and a solar thermal system or a photovoltaic system “to improve the operating quality”. In future, they will no longer be an option in new buildings.
Nothing has changed in the controversial regulation on hydrogen compared to the previous draft. In the coming year, for example, owners will be able to install gas heaters and initially operate them with gas that is “H2-ready”. However, this is only permitted under the condition that the conversion of the gas network to hydrogen by 2035 is planned by the gas network operator to whom the heating is connected “and supported by concrete investment steps”, as stated in the cabinet proposal.
It is doubtful whether many utilities will make such a commitment next year. If the gas network is converted to hydrogen in the long term, the regulation also entails the risk that owners with a gas heating system that is still working and cannot process hydrogen will be cut off from the supply.
The industry had pushed for the deadline to be extended to 2045, when Germany should no longer be heated with fossil fuels anyway, but this was obviously not successful. For the transition – specifically a period of three years – ordinary gas heaters can continue to be installed after a heating failure, but they must then be replaced by a model with renewables.
The exception rule for people who have reached the age of 80 has remained and has even been expanded. If the previous heating system fails, they should be allowed to continue installing a classic fossil fuel heating system. The renewables obligation should only apply to those who later inherit the property.
The exception includes not only owner-occupied real estate, but also rented residential buildings, provided they have no more than six apartments and the owner lives in the house himself. The Ministry of Justice reportedly had legal concerns about this age limit. Parliament is now to discuss how this can be securely anchored in constitutional law.
Various climate bonuses planned
When it comes to funding, a distinction is made between owners who live in the property themselves and rented houses. The “Renewable Heating” funding program is intended for the first group. This includes small landlords in houses with up to six apartments who live in the house themselves. For all other rented properties, the previous funding programs of the “Federal Funding for Efficient Buildings” (BEG) remain in place.
The new subsidy program is designed as follows: The installation of a heating system according to the new GEG criteria in existing buildings should be subsidized at 30 percent. A “climate bonus I” of 20 percent is to be given to owners who receive social benefits, as well as previous owners who have lived in their property since at least 2002 and who are replacing an oil or gas heating system that is more than 30 years old.
The “Climate Bonus II” of 10 percent is intended for owners who replace their oil, gas or coal heating at least five years before the statutory deadline. The “climate bonus III”, also 10 percent, is available in the event of a heating failure if the heating was less than 30 years old and is switched to a heating system with renewables within a year. In addition, all owners should be able to apply for low-interest loans of up to 60,000 euros for the heating exchange.
So far, the state has subsidized the installation of a heat pump by covering between 25 and 40 percent of the costs, depending on the case. With the new rules, the subsidy rate would increase to up to 50 percent.