Germany: Farewell to wood heat?

Thermostat in an energy-efficient German home.

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

FRANKFURT – First came the cars. Now, fireplaces.

Buoyed by the success of its $2 billion cash-for-clunkers program, the German government wants to use the same model in an other area – this time to get people to think harder about cleaner heating.

To many, a fireplace means a quiet evening listening to the crackling logs and a form of heating cheaper than gas. But, as wood heating in homes keeps getting more popular, concerns about its polluting impact have grown.

In Germany, wood heating emits roughly 25,000 tons of fine particles – more than diesel-car emission. Three quarters of that comes from decades-old fireplaces and stoves.

“Politicians have to act,” says Michael von Bock und Polach, head of the Heating, Sanitary and Air-conditioning Association in Berlin, which represents Germany’s heating and sanitary appliancemakers. He said the scrap-bonus model for old cars had proved to be a “more powerful psychological stimulus than any other existing forms of incentives.”

Politicians have heard the call: In May, Environmental Minister Sigmar Gabriel announced that people buying stoves that are new and meet new emission standards could soon receive a check of between 500 and 1,000 euros.

Not everyone likes the idea of that new government role.

“If subsidies become the standard way of reaching ecological standards, then environmental policy in this country is going to get really expensive,” editorialized the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

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