Environmental benefits and household costs of clean heating options in northern China. Nature sustainability 


The Chinese government accelerated the clean residential heating transition in northern China as part of a successful effort to improve regional air quality. Meanwhile, China has committed to carbon neutrality by 2060, making strategic choices for long-term decarbonization of the residential sector necessary. However, the synergies and trade-offs for health and carbon of alternative heating options and associated costs have not been systematically considered. Here we investigate air-quality– health–carbon interdependencies as well as household costs of using electricity (heat pumps or resistance heaters), gas or clean coal for residential heating for individual provinces across northern China. We find substantial air-quality and health benefits, varied carbon emissions and increased heating costs across clean heating options. With the 2015 power mix, gas heaters offer the largest health–carbon co-benefits, while resistance heaters lead to health–carbon trade-offs. As the power grid decarbonizes, by 2030 heat pumps achieve the largest health–carbon synergies of the options we analysed. Despite high capital costs, heat pumps generally have the lowest operating costs and thus are competitive for long-term use. With increased subsidies on the purchase of heat pumps, the government can facilitate further air-quality improvements and carbon mitigation in the clean heating transition.