District heating and cooling is attracting political attention on the global agenda thanks to the international research centre 4DH in Denmark. The center has been instrumental in showing how district heating can be a key factor in achieving climate goals while also creating jobs and exports and having a positive effect on health. The UN initiative District Energy in Cities supports climate and sustainable development targets through accelerated investment in modern district energy systems with more than 40 partners in 7 countries globally. This initiative is featured in a Keynote speech today at the international 4DH conference.
“Although district energy is not a new technology, it has gained new political relevance due to its role in addressing climate and energy challenges and in meeting sustainable development goals. The 4DH Research Centre has played a big part in putting district energy on the political agenda,” said Mark Radka, Chief, Energy, Climate and Technology Branch, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Deputy Head of 4DH Brian Vad Mathiesen thinks the UNEP initiative is very important:
“UNEP’s global focus on district energy, district heating and energy efficiency can help diversify the renewable energy sources used locally. This focus is absolutely crucial in order to reach the Paris COP21 global temperature reduction targets of well below 2 degrees. Part of a transition towards 100 percent renewable energy is the use of local, low-value, low-temperature heat sources, and to do so in a way where building owners and communities work together,” said Professor Brian Vad Mathiesen, Deputy Head of 4DH.
Keynote speaker at conference
The 4DH Research Centre and the Heat Roadmap Europe studies have done a lot of the ground work for the District Energy in Cities initiative, with several references in official UNEP documents including the UNEP flagship report on District Energy in Cities: Unlocking the Potential of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
“District energy in cities is a key factor in achieving the UN Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) objective of doubling the global rate of energy efficiency improvement by 2030, in conjunction with buildings, transport, lighting, and appliance and equipment. That is a recognition of what district energy has achieved to date and its potential in the future,” said Lily Riahi, author of this UNEP flagship report, who is delivering a keynote speech on the subject at the 2nd International Conference on Smart Energy Systems and 4th Generation District Heating in Aalborg, Denmark today.
She points out that the ability of district energy systems to combine energy efficiency improvements with renewable energy integration and address policy objectives across industry, transport, buildings and energy has led to its growing market share in cities, regions and countries around the world.
“However, there are still market barriers to greater deployment, including data and accounting challenges, lack of awareness about technology applications and their multiple benefits and savings, lack of integrated planning, a lack of knowledge and capacity in structuring projects to attract investments, and energy pricing regimes or market structures that disadvantage district energy systems relative to other technologies.”
In order to overcome these diverse barriers, UNEP is working with over forty partners – city networks, governments, industry, financiers, universities and operators – to build local know-how and capacity through demonstration projects and strengthen local and national policy frameworks across the seven countries Bosnia-Herzegovina, Chile, China, Colombia, India, Morocco and Serbia.
The initiative District Energy in Cities was launched in 2014 at the UN Climate Summit with financial support from the Danish International Development Agency (Danida), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and the Government of Italy.
Why district energy?
Through development of district energy infrastructure, the 45 UNEP champion cities are achieving or pursuing the following benefits:
GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS REDUCTIONS: Rapid, deep and cost-effective emissions reductions, due to fuel switching and to decreases in primary energy consumption of 30-50 per cent (e.g., the district cooling network in Paris uses 50 per cent less primary energy).
AIR QUALITY IMPROVEMENTS: Reduced indoor and outdoor air pollution and their associated health impacts, through reduced fossil fuel consumption.
ENERGY EFFICIENCY IMPROVEMENTS: Operational efficiency gains of up to 90 percent through use of district energy infrastructure linking the heat and electricity sectors (e.g., Helsinki’s CHP plants often operate at 93 per cent primary energy efficiency).
USE OF LOCAL AND RENEWABLE RESOURCES: Harnessing local energy sources, including waste streams, reject heat, natural water bodies and renewable energy. Piloting new technologies, such as thermal storage, to integrate variable renewables.
RESILIENCE AND ENERGY ACCESS: Reduced import dependency and fossil fuel price volatility. Management of electricity demand and reduced risk of brownouts.
GREEN ECONOMY: Cost savings from avoided or deferred investment in generation infrastructure and peak power capacity. Wealth creation through reducing fossil fuel bills and generating local tax revenue. Employment through jobs created in system design, construction