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The electrification of heat in The Netherlands: new build vs retrofit

The Netherlands is at the forefront of the move to decarbonise the European heating sector through electrification of heat, driven by a policy goal to phase out natural gas. In the Netherlands, this drive has been strengthened by a series of earthquakes in the north of the country that have been caused by natural gas extraction. This is quite a shift as, similarly to the UK, the Netherlands has previously been a country dominated by gas heating. 85-90% of homes currently use natural gas as their main heat source.  

Cate Lyon, manager of Delta-EE’s Electrification of Heat research, says that building regulations have been the key to kick-starting the electrification of heat in new build housing.

“They’re definitely a leader in terms of new build. In 2018, the Netherlands passed a law that means the presumption on any new build house is that it will no longer get a connection to a gas network.”

Similar proposals from the UK, Republic of Ireland and parts of Belgium may follow The Netherlands down this route of banning gas connections in new build. 

“They’ve also been ramping up the support they offer in terms of subsidies and legislation to help retrofit, the other really big sector that needs tackled to help the move towards electrification.”

Across the five biggest heating markets Delta-EE’s research focuses on – the UK, Italy, France, Netherlands and Germany – there are around half a million new build homes constructed (of which about 300,000 today will get natural gas heating). But if you look at the existing housing stock, there are more than 100 million existing homes that currently use fossil fuel heating – so the scale of the retrofit challenge is clear

Although the size of the potential retrofit opportunity far outweighs the size of the new build opportunity, it is far more challenging to access. Many homes do not have sufficient insulation levels and improvements to the building shell need to be made to enable high efficiency electric technology like heat pumps to perform optimally.  What’s more, there are customer barriers to overcome, such as the higher upfront cost and lack of familiarity with the technology.

Gijs Diependaal, Innovation Technology Manager at Eneco, explains, “for now we focus on new builds because new builds are well insulated. We have calculations about the heat demands of the house… That’s the low hanging fruit.”

Elbert Stoffer, Innovation Manager Renewables at Itho Daalderop, echoes this sentiment, but suggests industry needs to focus on retrofit as well.

“We are trying to move from new build [and] extend our market to retrofit. But key in that is the upfront costs need to be as low as possible to make it an attractive offer. So that means that it’s really a project-based [opportunity]. Social housing, not just one house, but a small area with around a hundred houses.”

To hear what the rest of these heating experts had to say, listen to episode 1 of this series of Talking New Energy, the podcast from Delta-EE below or on your favourite podcast provider.

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