Climate protection areas: No more fossil fuels for new buildings

New buildings

Vienna is taking a historic step towards a crisis-proof and renewable energy future. The phase-out of fossil gas supply for buildings has begun. In June 2020, the first 3 climate protection areas are enacted in Vienna. In these areas, new buildings can only be built with a climate-friendly energy supply system.

The most effective way to fight the climate crisis is to reduce CO2 emissions. Last year the city government adopted a new Smart City Strategy aiming for the reduction of local greenhouse gas emissions per capita by 85 percent by 2050. The current share of the building sector in CO2 emissions is 20 percent.

With the climate protection areas, 80 percent of new buildings will cool and heat in a climate-friendly manner and CO2 emissions will decrease sharply.

Cooling included and other advantages

Systems based on renewable energy sources are economically comparable and competitive. This is already shown by practical experience from residential and school constructions. Especially when it comes to total cost analysis over 20 years or the possibility of cooling by heat pumps on hot summer days is considered, renewable energy systems appear to be the most cost-efficient solution today.

The use of air or geothermal heat pumps is particularly worthwhile. The running operating costs are significantly cheaper. Heating costs can be up to 55 percent lower than for buildings powered by fossil fuels.

The additional investment costs for a highly efficient building and its technology (under 10 percent) are offset by the same or lower overall costs over the entire lifespan of the building. In addition, energy solutions with heat pumps can be operated flexibly with renewable electricity that comes from solar power systems or from wind farms.

Green Light form the EU-Commission

The European Commission confirmed the exclusion of fossil heating systems by means of a regulation from the City of Vienna. No objection came from the European Commission, from other Member States or from companies.

This lack of objection on the part of the EU Commission can be interpreted as trend-setting in terms of climate protection. It shows that climate protection is more important than protecting the internal market for fossil heating systems. This is an important step for climate protection. Other cities and countries now have tailwind to make similar arrangements in their area of responsibility.

Viennese building regulations strengthen climate protection

The definition of "climate protection areas" is laid down in the ordinance on spatial energy plans in the Vienna Building Code § 2b. The geographical design of the climate protection areas makes sure the area is serviced by the district heating grid. In addition, at least 1 further climate-friendly heating system based on renewable energy or waste heat must be feasible in this area. This ensures a freedom of choice for the heating system in climate protection areas.

The ordinances are prepared and evaluated by the Municipal Department for Energy Planning (MA 20) and then issued by the Municipal Council district by district. By autumn 2020, climate protection areas will be in force for 8 (of the 23) districts of Vienna. The rest will follow in 2021.

The effect is a compulsory choice of a climate friendly heating and hot water system for new buildings. In the future, only "highly efficient, alternative systems" as per Vienna Building Code (§ 118 Paragraph 3) may be used for heating and hot water provision in new buildings erected within a climate protection area. These systems are:

  • District heating or micro-grid, provided at least 80 percent of the energy is renewable or from highly efficient combined heat and power plants.
  • Decentralised energy supply systems based on renewable energy sources (heat pumps, biomass heating systems, solar energy et cetera), provided air quality requirements are met.
  • Use of waste heat.

Next step: decarbonising the existing building stock

As a next step, climate protection areas shall be extended to phase-out fossil fuel heating and cooling systems in existing buildings. This is a much more delicate and complex task than for new constructions but one that has to be tackled to meet our climate targets.

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