Environmental protection against climate protection – the real estate industry calls for less regulation

Environmental protection against climate protection - the real estate industry calls for less regulation

Berlin According to the traffic light government, every newly installed heating system should be operated with at least 65 percent renewable energy from January 1, 2024 – one year earlier than the coalition agreement of SPDGreens and FDP.

The Federal Ministry of Economics and Building hope that this will give new impetus to the heat transition, which is associated with considerable challenges due to the large variety of different buildings, the different situations of the owners and the effects on tenants.

The two departments want to use the summer break to talk to real estate, tenant, social, consumer and environmental associations about ways and means of implementing the project by August 22nd. Based on these discussions, a draft law is then to be drawn up.

“The war in Ukraine and the current energy crisis clearly show how urgent a trend reversal on the heating market towards renewable heat is, not only for reasons of climate protection, but also to ensure security of supply and affordable heating energy prices,” say the two ministries.

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Without heat transition there is no way out of the gas dependency

Without heat transition will Germany not only fail to meet its climate targets, but also cannot sufficiently reduce its dependence on gas. The following figures from the Federal Ministry of Economics prove that up to now, more than 80 percent of the demand for heat – i.e. the need for heating and hot water – has been covered by burning oil and gas, most of which is imported.

>>> Also read: The crux of the heat transition – what makes the switch to climate-friendly heating systems so difficult

Natural gas, especially from Russia, dominates in the building heating sector. In 2021, more than 410 terawatt hours of natural gas were burned to cover heat demand in buildings. This is over 40 percent of all natural gas consumed in Germany. Almost every second German household heats with natural gas.

Advice from the real estate industry: less regulation

The challenges are great – but there have long been opportunities for politicians to quickly release at least some of the brakes that prevent more climate protection in the building sector.

The top issue for the real estate industry in the big cities is the so-called milieu protection, which allows fewer energetic improvements than investors would be willing to make. Many major German cities designate “social conservation areas” to limit rent increases in these areas. In Berlin alone, the responsible districts have defined a total of 72 milieu protection areas. Modernization, conversions or changes in use as well as the conversion of rental apartments into owner-occupied apartments are subject to approval in these areas.

Jürgen Michael Schick, President of the German Real Estate Association (IVD), knows many anecdotes about environmental protection and the consequences. For example, the story about the fire wall of a Berlin apartment building, which the Neukölln district office wanted to remain unplastered instead of being insulated – although in view of the horrendous increases in energy prices, that would have been a win for tenants by today at the latest.

In Berlin, almost a third of the population lives in milieu protection areas

“Restrictions on structural changes in milieu protection areas are a major hurdle for energy-related refurbishment,” Schick told Handelsblatt. He is certain: “The protection of the milieu will become a problem for the climate change in Germany.”

In Berlin, almost a third of the population lives in milieu protection areas, Schick continues. “In Munich, Cologne and Hamburg, the number of milieu protection areas is also growing.”

Without environmental protection, more climate protection would be possible, agrees Axel Dyroff, lawyer at Seldeneck and Partners in Berlin. A certain degree of climate protection is possible in accordance with the minimum requirements in the Building Energy Act. “But the most comprehensive possible climate protection – as it is obviously necessary to achieve the climate goals – is clearly hindered in any case.”

More Handelsblatt articles on the heat transition:

Rackham F. Schröder, Managing Director of Engel & Völkers Commercial Berlin, says: “Protecting tenants from displacement is important, of course.” But protecting the environment is extremely unsuitable. “Anyone who supports the protection of the milieu protects Ulla from Ulm and Sabine from Stuttgart, essentially people who have moved to Berlin,” says Schröder.

“In return, we accept that oil, gas or coal will continue to be used for heating in milieu protection areas. That’s dramatic and politically short-sighted: The burdens caused by energy prices, for example, will increase many times over if the houses are not renovated. That just shows.”

Demand for the expansion of district heating in metropolitan areas

Lamia Messari-Becker, Professor of Building Technology and Building Physics at the University of Siegen, sees environmental protection as one of “many construction sites”. With a view to the talks between the economics and building ministries on the heat transition, she calls for “innovative and technically open solutions” that relieve tenants and social housing companies. “Today more than ever, climate protection policy needs a social compass in order to take everyone on board and counteract social upheavals,” she told the Handelsblatt.

The civil engineer is an advocate of district solutions, which could be fed from the federal government’s energy and climate fund (EKF), for example, in order to keep the burden on tenants low.

She also advocates the expansion of district heating – especially in existing buildings in metropolitan areas. In this way, she argues, it would be easier and usually more cost-effective to supply renewable energy than with a one-sided focus on heat pumps, which usually require expensive renovation of the building.

The professor says there isn’t “one” solution that works well for everyone.

More: Germany threatens “social ordeal”: Politicians and economists warn of an escalation of the energy crisis

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