Panel: 3. Policy, finance and governance

Is the “heating hammer” hitting energy efficiency policy? – learnings from the debate around the German buildings energy act

As a key element of its strategy to increase energy efficiency and renewable energies in buildings, Germany has recently revised its building energy act. The revision of the law has received unprecedented media attention and has dominated the energy policy discourse in 2023 in Germany and beyond. Driven by the German tabloid “BILD”, a campaign making use of populist discourses and misinformation has filled the front pages of German newspapers. The high media reception of the so-called “heating hammer” has strongly impacted not only the provisions of the law itself but has also caused considerable damage to future energy efficiency policy developments, leading to a withdrawal of a previously announced tightening of energy efficiency standards as well as the watering down of Germany´s position in the trilogue negotiations on the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive.

Given the relevance of the process and the discourse for current and future policy developments, our paper provides an analysis of the different steps in the policy process and their respective media reception. We first summarize the main elements of the revision of the German Buildings Energy Act and discuss how these have evolved from the first draft to the final adopted provisions.

We then discuss the evolution of media coverage between the first uptake in February 2023 until the adoption of the law in September 2023. We conclude by reflecting upon the increasing role of populist discourses on energy policy development.