What is municipal heat planning and how does it work?

Municipal heating planning is an important component for the success of the heating transition and the achievement of climate neutrality. It shall show a way in which the heat supply, which is currently predominantly based on fossil fuels (see Figure 1), can be converted to renewable energies. For this purpose, the current energy consumption is analysed and suitable measures are developed to increase energy efficiency and integrate renewable energies. At the centre of municipal heating planning is the question of what the most cost-effective and sustainable solution for a climate-neutral heating supply in the future is or in the so-called target scenario, which bridging technologies can be used and – at least as relevant – which measures can be used to achieve this state.

Share of renewable energies Heating sector Transport sector Electricity
Figure 1: Slow development of the share of renewable energies in the heating sector

For who is municipal heat planning relevant?

The Heat Planning Act, which came into force in January 2024, forms the legal basis for the mandatory and systematic introduction of comprehensive heat planning throughout Germany. For municipal areas with more than 100,000 inhabitants, a heat plan must be drawn up by 30 June 2026. For municipal areas with fewer than 100,000 inhabitants, the deadline is 30 June 2028, while a simplified heat planning procedure is possible for municipalities with up to 10,000 inhabitants. Together with the Building Energy Act, which came into force at the same time, the aim is to achieve a faster and more targeted heating transition with the central objective of achieving the federal government’s overarching climate protection targets by 2045 at the latest. This target can be achieved earlier in the individual federal states (e.g. 2040 in Bavaria) and therefore has a direct influence on municipal heating planning.

In addition to technical solutions, the transformation also requires strategic management and interlinking of various municipal areas, for example between the environmental department and urban planning, as well as the integration of various stakeholders (e.g. regional suppliers or housing associations). In view of the comprehensive measures that require a political decision and subsequent implementation in almost all buildings, it makes sense to start municipal heating planning at an early stage.

How does municipal heat planning work?

Municipal heat planning can be divided into various steps, which are briefly described below.

Suitability test

At the beginning, the planned area is analysed for sub-areas that are highly unlikely to be suitable for supply by a heating network or a hydrogen network. A shortened heat planning process can then be carried out in the identified areas.

Status quo analysis

In the course of the status quo analysis, the current heat demand or heat consumption of the planned area, including the energy sources used, the existing heat generation plants and the energy infrastructures relevant for the heat supply are analysed as a basis for further processing. A greenhouse gas balance is drawn up for the status quo of the heat supply.

Analysing the local potential

As part of the potential analysis, a quantitative and geographical differentiated determination is made of the potential available in the planned area for the generation of heat from renewable energies (e.g. heat pumps), for the utilisation of unavoidable waste heat and for central heat storage, taking known restrictions into account. The potential analysis does not determine the extent to which certain technologies will be used in the future, but rather limits this. The most suitable solutions for heat supply are determined in the following steps.

Categorisation into heat supply areas

The results of the existing and potential analyses are combined in such a way that the planned areas can be divided into prospective heat supply areas with corresponding heat supply types in order to enable a cost-optimised and reliable renewable heat supply. A distinction is made between grid-based supply areas (heat or hydrogen grid), areas for decentralised heat supply and areas with increased energy-saving potential.

Development and description of a target scenario

As part of the target scenario, the long-term development of the heat supply for the planned area as a whole is worked out. This is done in line with the categorisation of the expected heat supply areas and the presentation of the heat supply types for the target year. The target scenario describes how the goal of a heat supply based on renewable energies or the utilisation of unavoidable waste heat is to be achieved in the planned area. For this purpose, a simulation (e.g. with the FfE heat transformation tool) is carried out to determine the transformation and developments (e.g. final energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, proportion of buildings with a heating network connection) until the climate-neutral heat supply is achieved.

Development of an implementation strategy with measures to achieve the target scenario

Based on the inventory analysis and the potential analysis and in line with the target scenario, an implementation strategy with measures to be realised is developed in this step, with which the goal of supplying heat generated exclusively from renewable energies or from unavoidable waste heat can be specifically achieved by the target year. The measures are prepared and prioritised on the basis of various criteria and summarised in a catalogue of measures (see Figure 2).

Profile of measure Implementation of heat planning
Figure 2: Example of a profile of measures in the catalogue of measures

Ongoing project management is essential to enable consistent and time-coordinated project processing by all stakeholders involved. Depending on the size of the municipality, it is advisable to establish working groups and steering committees for targeted project management.

In addition to the content-related steps, stakeholder participation plays a central role in the development of successful municipal heat planning. Various interest groups and stakeholders are involved in the planning process in order to take their perspectives, needs and expertise into account. These include, for example, interested citizens, local businesses, the municipal administration and political decision-makers. With the help of transparent communication, stakeholder participation not only contributes to greater acceptance of the measures, but also promotes efficient and successful implementation of heat planning. High-profile kick-off, interim or final events are suitable for this purpose, for example.

Apart from these necessary steps, further measures are useful. These include, for example, the development of a communication strategy, the establishment of a controlling concept to ensure regular monitoring or the development of a continuation strategy in order to clearly define future responsibilities and the competences required for this.

Where can the FfE support you?

The Research Centre for Energy Economics (FfE) is happy to support you in the implementation of your heat planning. We always draw on our expert knowledge and relevant research findings to provide valuable insights into innovative technologies, best practices and a holistic view of heat supply. This enables us to develop customised solutions and take the specific requirements and potential of your municipality into account in the best possible way.

Figure 3 shows the project processing structure proposed by FfE in a staggered manner. This includes the above-mentioned work steps as well as the accompanying public relations and working group work.

Heat planning steps
Figure 3: Exemplary project schedule for municipal heat planning

This structure can be customised to the local circumstances. In addition to the content-related and technical steps of heat planning, we take on the project management and organise high-profile events and regular workshops to deepen the understanding of local stakeholders and promote the successful implementation of heat planning. Close cooperation between the municipality and FfE is therefore the key to developing a climate-neutral heat supply at municipal level.