In order to be emission-free by 2035, Stuttgart wants to eliminate gas from the city. A total of 13 quarters are therefore facing a heating problem. Both heating networks and heat pumps are technically out of the question. A researcher advises the city to be honest.

Bussenstrasse in the east of Stuttgart is a suitable example for Bastian Schröter, professor at the Stuttgart University of Technology. The residential street leads steeply uphill from Gablenberger Hauptstraße to Schwarenbergstraße. That’s the first problem. Slope locations are not suitable for heating networks.

But that’s not all. The houses here, which belong to many different owners, are rather small; some are insulated, others not. A few are listed buildings, some tenants live in. And they are too close together for heat pumps. The Ost/Gablenberg district, in which Bussenstrasse is located, is therefore considered one of 13 problem areas in Stuttgart in heat planning.

As of today, the following applies to all of these districts: It is unclear how people there will heat in a climate-friendly manner in the future; there is still a big question mark when it comes to heating planning. Both district heating and heat pumps are ruled out at first glance.

What makes matters worse is that the people who live in the problem areas belong to different income groups. Almost half of the households there probably have a net income of 2,500 euros or less per month, and around a fifth have more than 5,000 euros. This is shown by calculations by our editorial team based on estimates from the data service provider infas360.

The costs that homeowners or tenants have to bear for the heating transition are also relevant in the areas where heating networks or heat pumps are the likely solution – after all, there are residents with different starting points in all parts of the city. However, there is currently no technical solution in sight in the problem areas.

According to Jürgen Görres, head of the city’s energy department at the Office for Environmental Protection, the goal is to find answers during 2024. “You have to think outside the box a little bit in these areas,” he said at the end of 2023.

At this point, Bastian Schröter is skeptical. “Heat planning is not academically wrong,” emphasizes the professor from the Center for Sustainable Energy Technology at the Stuttgart University of Technology. “But the assumptions are very optimistic.” In order to achieve the goal, the renovation rate would have to at least double and a total of around 300 kilometers of heating networks would have to be built by 2035. And between now and eleven years from now, a total of 36,000 additional heat pumps will have to be installed in Stuttgart, Schröter has estimated.

The city of Stuttgart is even aiming for a total of 45,000, as Jürgen Görres recently said in the climate committee. The Central Association for Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning had just revised the nationwide expectations for 2024 significantly downwards: of the 500,000 heat pumps per year that the traffic light is targeting, at most 180,000 to 200,000 are realistic.

What Schröter concludes from this situation: “The problem areas will have to wait the longest.” Because this is where the economic viability is the most difficult and construction will begin where it is easier. This applies to the heating network and heat pump. Areas like that around Bussenstrasse in Stuttgart-East are likely to fall behind in his assessment – and become evidence that the city cannot be completely divided into two worlds: that of heating networks and that of heat pumps. That’s why he advises the city to be honest.

According to the neighborhood profile, 93 percent of the heating in the East/Gablenberg area, where Bussenstrasse is located, is currently using gas. Bastian Schröter doesn’t need much imagination to imagine that gas will still flow through the pipes here even after 2035 – the year in which the city wants to be emission-free. “You should keep your options open,” he says. “In terms of long-term credibility, I think it’s problematic to demonize gas.”

The first public information events on heat planning have already taken place, and city employees plan to have been in all districts by the summer. “In problem areas you have to think about good communication,” says Schröter. One that doesn’t raise false hopes and doesn’t demand anything utopian.

The municipal council’s mandate to the administration in the summer of 2022 was: The city should be emission-free by 2035. Heat supply currently accounts for 58 percent of total emissions, Jürgen Görres recently said in the Climate Committee. “The problem is fossil natural gas.” That is why the gas will disappear in Stuttgart in the next eleven years. Overall, as of April 2024, the following applies to heat planning: “We are on schedule.”

By Judith A. Sägesser

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The original for this article “Heating problem looms in large German city: “It’s problematic to demonize gas”” comes from STUTTGARTER ZEITUNG.