Unequal residential heating burden caused by combined heat and power phase-out under climate goals
The early retirement of coal-fired power plants to achieve climate goals creates significant challenges for heating systems, especially in regions heavily reliant on coal-fired combined heat and power (CHP). While China has access to abundant heating alternatives, the effects of measures taken to meet climate goals on household heating burden remain largely unexplored. Here we project the spatiotemporal evolution of CHP heating capacity, urban heating demand and residential heating costs in northern urban China under different climate goal scenarios. We found that the heating loss from the early retirement of coal-fired power plants is equivalent to the heat provided by installing solar photovoltaic heating on at least 17.8% of European Union rooftops. Further analysis showed that replacing CHP heating with clean alternatives will disproportionately increase residential heating costs, particularly in economically disadvantaged areas. These findings underscore the potential social risks and injustices when implementing coal retirement strategies. We should formulate policies to address this issue to facilitate the transition towards clean and affordable space heating.