Energy Policy 89, 95–105 (2016)

Residential heating can account for as much as 20% of the energy demand of a country like Germany. As heat generation is largely achieved by burning fossil fuels, it also contributes substantially to carbon dioxide emissions. Thus, switching to residential heating systems based on renewable energy sources can be an effective means of meeting climate protection targets. However, switching relies in part on the decisions of individual homeowners to replace existing systems, making it important to understand what factors affect their choices. Carl Michelsen and Reinhard Madlener from RWTH Aachen University have now analysed what drives or hinders the uptake of renewable residential heating systems in the form of condensing boilers with solar thermal support, heat pumps or wood-pellet boilers.

The researchers analysed the response to a 2010 questionnaire of 2,682 German homeowners who had received grants to install renewable heating systems. They concluded that the uptake of renewable systems was mainly driven by concerns related to dependence on fossil fuels and environmental protection and by a greater knowledge of how these systems operate. Barriers to uptake were found to be system-dependent: mostly psychological for the heat pumps and mostly functional for the wood-pellet system. By identifying areas of concern for customers, these findings might guide policymakers and manufacturers to facilitate a transition to renewable heating systems.