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Berlin’s heat transition

Wärmewende – Auf dem Weg in die Berliner Wärmezukunft. (Wort-Bild-Marke)

Heat transition – on the road to Berlin’s heating future (word mark)

Why Berlin needs a heat transition

The building and heating sector is responsible for more than 40 percent of Berlin’s CO2 emissions, as more than 90 percent of Berlin’s heat supply is generated by fossil fuels such as gas, oil and coal. In order for Berlin to achieve its climate targets and become climate neutral by 2045 at the latest, these emissions must be reduced towards zero. The climate-neutral transition of the heat supply is therefore a task of enormous significance. The key instrument for this transformation is citywide heat planning. This is supposed to determine the most climate-friendly and cost-efficient supply for each city area. Heat planning is also mandatory under federal law.

Heat planning and its implementation affect various stakeholders such as heating network operators, electricity network operators, building owners, industry and commerce, administration and public bodies. In order to involve them in the heat planning and to inform them about the different steps and results, they are integrated throughout the entire process.
Berlin-Karte zur Wäremeplanung

Current status of district heating areas, as in a city map

Heat planning

Citywide heat planning consists of different elements and phases. First, a heat register is created using different inventories and analyses of potentials. This will provide spatial representation of suitable areas for heat supply options (e.g. district heating networks, decentralized heat supply). Strategies and measures for their decarbonization will then be consolidated in a citywide heat plan. This will be submitted to the Senate of Berlin for approval in the beginning of 2026. The heat plan will not be directly binding for building owners, but is intended to provide orientation and planning security.
Molecule Man

Molecule Man

Heat strategy

A scientific heat strategy builds another element for heat planning. The strategy investigated what is needed for the heat sector’s transition. It also describes the timing of all relevant steps. Various stakeholders were involved in the process.

The study has shown that a climate-neutral heat supply for Berlin is possible, though very challenging. To achieve it, the heat supply must be largely electrified or converted to grid-connected heat. The potential of renewable energies and unavoidable waste heat must be fully utilized. Energy-efficient building refurbishment on a large scale is needed to reduce heat consumption in the building sector, also to enable the efficient use of heat pumps. Berlin’s district heating system must be expanded and decarbonized through the integration of renewable energies and electrification.
Heizkraftwerk Reuter West

Power stations Reuter West

Phasing-out of coal

The decarbonization of the heat sector mainly depends on the removal of fossil sources from heat production. Thus, Berlin was the first German federal state to announce that it will be phasing out of coal. According to the Berlin Climate Protection and Energy Turnaround Act, Berlin must work towards ending energy production from coal by 2030 at the latest. An important milestone is already achieved: Berlin’s last remaining lignite-fired power plants were decommissioned in 2017. As for hard coal, the Senate of Berlin is working intensely to close down all energy production involving this fuel. In 2021, the use of hard coal for energy production was responsible for about 15 percent of Berlin’s carbon dioxide emissions in respect of primary energy consumption.

The coal phase-out also has an impact on the decarbonisation targets in the district heating supply. According to the Berlin Climate Protection and Energy Turnaround Act, Berlin’s district heating operators are obliged to use at least 40 percent renewable and waste heat sources to generate district heating by 2030, and district heating must be climate-neutral by 2045 at the latest.

The feasibility study – conducted jointly in 2018/19 by Berlin and the largest energy supplier Vattenfall Wärme Berlin – now BEW Energie und Wärme AG – has been investigating the options for phasing out the remaining coal-fired power plants by 2030 and creating a largely carbon dioxide-free district heating supply. The subject of the study were the two combined plants, Reuter-West as well as Moabit. The study shows that phasing-out coal in Berlin by 2030 is technically feasible and can be realized at reasonable cost. By replacing hard coal, more than 2 million tons of CO2 can be saved annually. In addition, phasing out coal will lead to a significant reduction in fine dust, sulphur dioxide or heavy metals and contribute to better air and river water quality in Berlin as a whole.
  • Scientific article “Evaluation of Energy Transition Pathways to Phase out Coal for District Heating in Berlin”