Home heating pollutes, how is decarbonisation proceeding?

Not very well, according to an analysis carried out by Elemens for Legambiente and Kyoto Club: in 2020 the sector consumed more energy than industry and mainly used fossil fuels

Heating our homes has a cost. Not only what we pay periodically with the bill, but also and above all from an environmental point of view. According to Eurostat data, in 2021 the residential sector represented 28% of final energy consumptionslightly less than transport (31%) e more than industry (22%). In practice, it contributed to a fifth of the energy sector’s overall CO2 emissions. Consumption is mostly due to room heating and the production of hot water (78% of the total), and reducing them becomes essential if we want to hit the European targets on decarbonisation. These themes are at the center of an analysis by Elemens for Legambiente and Kyoto Club which investigates ‘The decarbonisation of domestic heating’, presented in Ancona on the occasion of the last stage of the ‘Gas boilers? Museum pieces!’ as part of the conference ‘Energy efficiency – Optimizing energy for a sustainable future’.

Residential heating is a problem for the environment

The Italian situation is characterized by three aspects:

  • a predominantly residential property park: out of 14.4 million buildings, approximately 12 million are such (84%).
  • high sector consumption
  • an energy requirement covered mainly by gas.

In particular, most buildings are heated by gas – 61% according to IEA (International Energy Agency) data – which also causes problems related to safety. This translates into the fact that over a fifth of gas consumption in Italy – around 22%, equal to 15 billion SCM out of 69 billion SCM of total natural gas consumption – is due to residential heating, a figure second only to ‘Electricity generation and heat’.

In short, we use too many resources, we are inefficient and heating pollutes.

What can be done

The Elemens report elaborates a scenario with reduced gas consumption with a 2030 objective, ‘Gas Reduction 2030’, with possible actions. The estimate, however, is not encouraging, given that it foresees a reduction of only 37% in fossil gas consumption for domestic heating compared to 2020 (6.1 billion cubic meters less). This is done through three main tools:

  • efficiency improvement, which contributes to a reduction of 3.7 billion smc of primary energy used (72% incidence of the total reduction in consumption)
  • the installation of electric heat pumps instead of gas boilers, which achieves a reduction of 1.6 billion smc (18% incidence)
  • solar thermal, which leads to a reduction of 0.8 billion smc (10% incidence).

The lines of action therefore necessarily pass through the reduction of primary energy consumption and use of gasand, at the same time for thelowering of emissions due to heating. A result to be achieved through the electrification of consumption, the use of green sources and the increase in thermal renewables: it is first necessary to replace condensing boilers with renewable sources, in order to improve the energy class of buildings and therefore their efficiency.

The ‘Green Homes’ Directive

That of heating systems is a problem of great complexity and relevance: the ‘European Directive on the Energy Performance of Buildings (EPBD, Energy Performance of Buildings Directive), known to Italians as ‘
Green Homes Directive
‘, has the objective of achieving climate neutrality by 2050, as envisaged by the European Green Deal. To do this, it establishes that: LINK TO ESG ARTICLE

  • by 2026, new non-publicly owned buildings will be zero-emission; the others by 2028
  • by 2028 all buildings where it is possible to install solar technologies
  • by 2030, residential buildings will reach class E, and public buildings by 2027.
  • by 2033 residential buildings will reach class D, by 2030 public buildings
  • fossil fuel heating systems will be banned from 2035.

On 12 October a ‘trilogue’ meeting, i.e. between Parliament, European Commission and Council, took place the obligation to intervene on the building stock has been eliminated from the directiverather establishing a general objective of percentage reduction in energy consumption, to be decided by the States with a plan until 2050.

However, Italian owners do not sleep peacefully: according to data from the Information System on Energy Performance Certificates (Siape) based on Energy Performance Certificates (APE) released from 2015 to 2023, on the 4.3 million buildings analyzed 71% do not reach class D: in particular, 31.5% are in class G and 23.8% in F.

The Minister of the Environment and Energy Security Gilberto Pichetto, before the Environment Commission of the Chamber and as part of the fact-finding investigation on the environmental impact of incentives in the construction sector, commented as follows: “The particularly controversial topics in the context of the trilogues they affect, first of all, the timing of reaching the targets. On this point, it is necessary to identify a path of realistic, concrete and achievable actions. Second aspect: it is necessary to define a precise framework of financing and incentives at European level. Another controversial issue concerns the homogeneity of the performance certificates to determine the contingent of buildings on which to intervene. We do not want there to be an advantage or a penalty in the starting point for the Member States due to differences in classes or assessments. Homogeneous parameters are needed for the initial snapshot of the building stock.”

The Legambiente and Kyoto Club proposals

The measures implemented so far, from the Ecobonus to the Superbonus, have been very expensive (in particular the Superbonus, for which we are talking about 80 billion paid by the community), but have produced very small results in terms of decarbonisation. They also encouraged the switching mainly to condensing boilerswith the joke that in a few years they will have to be changed again given that the REPowerEU Plan provides for a ban on the sale of gas boilers from 2029 and a progressive abandonment from 2025.

Considering all this, at a political-institutional level, say Legambiente and Kyoto Club, Italy should first of all revise upwards the minimum consumption saving objectives set by European Directive Eedwhich has just come into force (in September), in order to achieve:

  • 2% annual reduction in consumption in 2024-2025 (+0.7% compared to the 1.3% expected by the Eed)
  • 3% in 2026-2027 (double that established by the Eed, equal to 1.5%)
  • 4.5% in 2028-2030 (+2.6% compared to the Eed, which forecasts 1.9%).

Furthermore, it should implement structural measures:

  • eliminate incentives for fossil fuels, such as gas condensing boilers, from 2024
  • improve the tools for monitoring the resources used and the results in terms of energy saving and decarbonisation
  • introduce a system of deductions that rewards and is proportional to the results obtained, modifying the current one
  • reintroduce the transfer of credit for all interventions to improve energy performance
  • ban the installation of technologies that use fossil fuels from 2025
  • introduce a fund dedicated to medium and low income families to cover costs excluded from the incentive system.

Katiuscia Eroe, Energy Legambiente manager, declares: “The objective to look towards is the electrification of heat consumption in the residential sector and the achievement of total decarbonisation of the electricity sector by 2035. For this reason it is essential to reach 2030 by reducing the consumption of fossil and climate-altering gas by at least 50%. An element that has always represented, and even more so in recent years, a very critical issue for families and companies.”

“Continuing to encourage gas instead – concludes Francesco Ferrante, vice president of Kyoto Club, in addition to being a climate contradiction, risks making us miss a great opportunity for modernization and competitiveness in globalization”.