Heating is one of the main uses of energy by households in Europe, accounting for 62.8% of the final energy consumption in the residential sector in 20201. The type and efficiency of heating systems vary widely across the continent, depending on the climate, availability of resources, and building characteristics. In this post, we will explore some of the common ways that houses are heated in Europe and their energy efficiency.
The most common fuel for heating houses in Europe is natural gas, which accounted for 31.7% of the final energy consumption in households in 20201. Natural gas is mainly used for space heating and water heating, either through individual boilers or district heating networks. Natural gas is a fossil fuel that emits carbon dioxide and other pollutants when burned, but it is generally more efficient and cleaner than other fossil fuels such as oil or coal.
Electricity is another common fuel for heating houses in Europe, which accounted for 24.8% of the final energy consumption in households in 20201. Electricity can be used for various types of heating systems, such as electric radiators, heat pumps, storage heaters, or underfloor heating. Electricity can be generated from renewable sources such as wind or solar power, which have low or zero carbon emissions, but it can also come from fossil fuels or nuclear power, which have different environmental impacts.
Renewables and wastes are also increasingly used for heating houses in Europe, which accounted for 20.3% of the final energy consumption in households in 20201. Renewables include biomass (such as wood pellets or logs), solar thermal (such as solar water heaters), geothermal (such as ground source heat pumps), or ambient heat (such as air source heat pumps). Wastes include municipal solid waste or industrial waste heat. Renewables and wastes can provide low-carbon and cost-effective heating solutions, but they may also have some drawbacks such as land use, air quality, or resource availability.
Oil and petroleum products are less common fuels for heating houses in Europe, which accounted for 12.3% of the final energy consumption in households in 20201. Oil is mainly used for space heating and water heating through individual boilers or stoves. Oil is a fossil fuel that emits high amounts of carbon dioxide and other pollutants when burned, and it is also subject to price fluctuations and supply disruptions.
The energy efficiency of heating systems depends on several factors, such as the type and quality of the fuel, the design and performance of the equipment, the insulation and ventilation of the building, and the behaviour and preferences of the occupants. The European Union has adopted various policies and measures to improve the energy efficiency of heating systems, such as:
- The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), which sets minimum energy performance requirements for new and existing buildings, promotes nearly zero-energy buildings (NZEBs), requires energy performance certificates (EPCs) for buildings, and encourages long-term renovation strategies2.
- The Renewable Energy Directive (RED), which sets an indicative target for each EU country to increase the share of renewables in heating and cooling by 1.1 percentage point every year until 20303.
- The Ecodesign Directive and the Energy Labelling Regulation, which establish minimum energy efficiency standards and labels for heating appliances such as boilers, heat pumps, or water heaters.
- The EU Heating and Cooling Strategy, which provides a comprehensive overview of the challenges and opportunities for increasing renewable energy and energy efficiency in the heating and cooling sector3.
By improving the energy efficiency of heating systems, Europe can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, enhance its energy security, lower its energy bills, and improve its health and comfort.