Realising the low-carbon future with District Energy

Date: 7 May 2013

Moving towards a low-carbon future requires a radical rethink of how communities and individuals live. District Energy is an example of how a simple, effective and practical solution can be found for heating and cooling needs within communities.


Moving towards a low-carbon future requires a radical rethink of how communities and individuals live. But merely heading for targets laid down by governments to reduce CO2 emissions by moving away from dirty fuels will not be enough. We will also need to turn the concept of sustainable communities into a tangible reality lived, and even celebrated, by people around the world.


All of this represents no less than a revolution towards greater energy efficiency. Decarbonisation must begin by examining how to change currentenergy consumption patterns and cut out wasteful energy use. Today, only around 40% of the fuel input into conventional power plants is converted to electricity. Analyses indicate that over half of the primary energy in many developed countries may be lost as waste heat on its way to the customer.


At current oil prices, this would amount to over €1,000 lost per citizen in developed nations. Switching power generation from fossil fuel to renewable energy sources is only part of the solution. To fully achieve decarbonisation, we will need to unlock the potential of energy efficiency in all infrastructure, whether dependent on fossil or renewable energies.


Unfortunately, many solutions to climate change remain unproven. At best, they may deliver results at a time too late to turn around global warming. We need, then, to also implement a range of tested systems and technologies that intelligently build upon pre-existing infrastructures. Only in this way will we make a meaningful impact on carbon emissions in the near future.


Making energy accountable
One example of a proven technology is District Energy. This is a wonderful example of how a simple, effective and practical solution can be found for heating and cooling needs within communities.


District Energy can simultaneously reduce emissions as well as boost the uptake of renewables in a controlled, secure and phased process.


The proven technology behind District Energy allows plants to use a variety of energy sources, including renewables such as wind, solar and geothermal heat. This may then be stored within the District Energy network until it is needed.


District Energy is also able to capture the major part of surplus heat from power generation, allowing plants to reach efficiency rates of 90%. Greater use of District Energy, recycling local waste energy and boosting use of renewables will also temper the rise of ever more expensive energy imports. At high prices for fossil fuels, societal payback could be as low as two to three years for heat distribution pipes placed in densely populated and developed urban areas.


By easing the replacement of fossil fuels with local renewable resources, District Energy also significantly contributes to reduced carbon emissions. Thanks to its thermal and fuel storage potentials, District Energy will play an ever more vital role for electricity systems in integrating and balancing a high proportion of variable renewables.


Hot facts
• Currently, over half of the primary energy in many countries may be lost as waste heat on its way to the customer. At current oil prices, this amounts to over €1,000 lost per citizen.
• By 2020 the EU aims to reduce energy usage across Europe by 20% while at the same time boosting renewable energy to 20%.
• District Heating is able to capture the major part of surplus heat from power generation, allowing plants to reach efficiency rates of 90%.
• Europe’s District Energy industry is already exporting its expertise around the world, especially to high-growth markets.


Source: Dafydd Ab Iago, Danfoss