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NZEB regulations leading to uncertainty in the future of heating

Delta-ee’s latest in-depth report has examined the implications of the Nearly-Zero Energy Building (NZEB) regulations on the European heating industry. 

Lukas Bergmann, Senior Analyst, states that “Our report shows that it’s currently a nightmare for the heating industry to see the products that the European market will need in future.  This uncertainty creates inertia in product development and encourages companies to protect the status quo, i.e. to continue selling conventional heating systems such as boilers. “

The report finds that there is no silver bullet to decarbonising heat: in the long term it requires a mix of biofuels, energy efficiency and electrification (assuming of course the electricity is generated renewably).  In the short-to-medium term Delta-ee’s analysis of the NZEB regulations concludes that:

  • The regulations are largely undefined or difficult to interpret across many EU member states – apart from Denmark, all other markets have several key uncertainties.
  • A whole building approach is key to meeting NZEB standards i.e. heating system technology, building fabric, orientation and ventilation all need to be considered.
  • Conventional heating products combined with a more efficient building fabric will not usually be the most cost effective way of meeting NZEB standards.
  • Heat pumps appear to be likely winners but direct electric heating is less favoured and micro-CHP’s main opportunity is in the retrofit market.
  • While heat pumps may become the favoured lowest cost solution for building developers in some EU member states, this may have a cost for house owners – because a heat pump in a low insulated home can cost more to run than a gas boiler in a highly insulated home.
  • Gas can still play a significant role in Europe’s heating market within most NZEB regulations.
  • The role of solar technologies (PV and thermal) looks to be critical for many heating systems to be eligible under NZEB regulations.

Buildings in the EU account for 40% of total final energy consumption and improving their energy efficiency is vital to meet the EU carbon reduction targets.  The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) attempts to do this via the implementation of Nearly-Zero Energy Building (NZEB) regulations, which focus on new buildings and major renovations on existing buildings.  

NZEB sets criteria for building performance from 2021, which will determine the heating systems that can be sold into new build dwellings. Because building developers favour the lowest capex approach to construction, the regulations will have a significant impact upon the future mix of heating systems and fuel mix in European buildings. 

Bergmann adds: “Our research concludes that the impact of NZEB will vary significantly between EU member states.”



About Delta-ee

Delta-ee ( is a research and consulting company that specialises in heat, distributed and digitalised energy, and helps clients navigate the transformation of the energy system. Headquartered in Edinburgh and with offices in England, the Netherlands and Denmark. Our clients comprise many of Europe’s leading utilities; heating appliance manufacturers; controls companies; policy makers; and investors. Delta-ee provides a range of subscription research services, consultancy and specialist Summits.

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Jan Hughes – [email protected]
Tel: +44 (0)131 625 1011

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