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Regulation of third-party access to heating networks


Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection (BMWK)




Öko-Institut (Institute for Applied Ecology), Becker Büttner Held, Institute of Energy Economics and Rational Energy Use at the University of Stuttgart

Our mission

In July 2021, the EU Commission presented a draft amendment to the European Renewable Energy Directive (2018/2001). Article 24 of the Directive is to be modified to make third-party access to heating networks mandatory in the EU.

In a short report, together with partners, we evaluated the EU Commission’s proposal on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection (BMWK).

Our approach

Firstly, the Commission's proposed amendments are presented. The next step is to discuss the technical challenges associated with the opening up of heating networks. Then we give a cursory overview of the regulation of third-party access in other EU Member States. Among other things, it has been examined whether and in what form a correlation can be detected between the regulation of third-party access and the share of renewable heat or waste heat in the respective district heating sectors.

Step four is an overview of the regulatory requirements associated with the transposition of the EU Commission's proposal into German law. In the last step, the report discusses how suitable a lever regulated third-party access is for the decarbonisation of the heating network.

Core results

The Commission’s proposal for an opening up of the heating networks proposes two variations for implementation: the transition model and the single-buyer model. The latter is the simplest to implement. The single-buyer model obliges district heating and cooling operators to purchase heating or cooling from renewable sources or waste heating or cooling from third-party suppliers and to feed it back into the grid.

Until now, in Germany, there has been no regulated third-party access to the heating and cooling supplies on a national level. While the antitrust claim (according to § 19 of the law against competition restrictions) does represent a basis for this, the network access claim is weak and does not apply to the single-buyer model.

Those EU Member States with regulated third-party access all pursue a single-buyer model. In those countries, with the exception of Lithuania, there is no recognisable correlation between the opening of the grid and the share of renewable energy/waste heat.

Regulated third-party network access in Germany will not be sufficient for the decarbonisation of the grid-based heating supply. This is the result from a comparison between the regulatory burden and the incentive effect of third-party access to connect additional capacities for renewable energy and waste heat generation to the existing heating networks. Setting an ambitious long-term decarbonisation target, coupled with a decarbonisation roadmap that will require regular adjustment, would probably be a more effective lever.

Links and downloads

To the study (PDF in German)

More about our work on this project (in German)


Project team: Nils Thamling, Dominik Rau


Last update: 05.01.2022

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