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District heating in Denmark

by dbdh

For decades, Denmark has been the world leader in accumulation of know-how and the catalyst with regard to development and implementation of innovative technologies related to DHC. Today, 66 percent of the Danish households enjoy the benefit of being connected to environmentally clean and energy efficient district heating systems.

Characteristics of Danish District Energy

The Danish district heating sector has for many years been the center of attention for a lot of district heating producers and experts from around the world. Many are taken by surprise and are eager to learn more about the Danish experience. They find it unique compared to experiences made in other countries.

At the Danish Board of District Heating (DBDH), we are often asked to point out the most essential characteristics of Danish district heating. This is possible, but only with difficulties. Partly because it all seems natural to us but mostly because there are many opinions about what is most important. The following 10 characteristics are our suggestions. We will elaborate on them on this page.

Before 1973, the Danish district heating system looked a lot like the system in our European neighbours.

Installation of transmission pipeline in central Copenhagen, photo by VEKS

Large-scale District Heating Investments

The total market share was very low, and DH was mostly located in the major cities and mainly delivering heat to big public institutions. The oil crises in 1973 changed the role of DH in Denmark.

With rapidly increasing oil prices, Denmark, a 100% oil-importing country, needed to change its energy mix. DH was seen as a cheap solution to replace the oil-dominated heating solutions.

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Today DH has a total market share of 63% of the heating market and is mostly powered by non-fossil energy sources.

Avedøre CHP Plant, unit 2

Strong support from central authorities

The history of DH in Denmark has not peaked yet and the market share is expected to grow in the future. An important factor for this development is strong support from central authorities. Not support through price subsidies or artificial regulation, but by following a clear and steady energy policy with a green and cheap energy-mix as a goal. This has been done through a wide range of measures, including:

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The district heating network is regarded as a natural part of the urban infrastructure.

Construction work in Køge has been ongoing since 2012. PHOTO: VEKS

Strong support from municipalities

The role of the municipalities in the implementation of the national energy policy is very important, as the municipalities have a natural interest in developing a good local district heating system for the benefit of the inhabitants in the urban areas.

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Almost all district heating companies are owned by the consumers, either directly as consumer co-operatives or indirectly as municipally owned companies.

Consumer ownership

Consumer ownership and none-for-profit district heating companies

They all operate as not-for-profit, and the cost of producing the heat, including overheads, is the price the consumers pay for the heat. The consumers elect members for the board of directors directly or indirectly through public elections. This gives certain benefits:

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Financing is a problem in many countries, but not in the district heating sector in Denmark.

Efficient financing

Efficient financing

Most companies finance their investments in networks and CHP plants 100% by international credits at the lowest market based interest rate. Banks compete to offer the best conditions as long as they can see that the security is high. And security is high, due to the following reasons:

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Which district heating system is typical for the Danish approach today?

Pond heat storage in Hoje Taastrup, Denmark

Variety of technical solutions

You may find a district heating system, which, one could say, is typical for the Danish approach today; however, there are no obligatory norms and standards that specify detailed technical solutions and design criteria that have to be followed.

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Figure: Example of design and operation parameters for a large Danish heat transmission and distribution system

Example of design and operation parameters for a large Danish heat transmission and distribution system

Dynamic development and co-operation

It comes as a surprise to many that the preinsulated pipes and other components in the heating systems (as well as modern wind turbines) have been invented and developed in a small country like Denmark.

What is the secret?

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The Danish district heating systems are normally not considered to be the largest in the world.

Large integrated systems with optimal load dispatch

Denmark is probably more known for small and straightforward local systems, even in villages. One reason is a modest heat load due to a modest climate. Another reason is the very high degree of building insulation.

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Many visitors have never seen a heat accumulator before, but by now almost all district heating systems in Denmark have a heat accumulator installed.

The two heat accumulation tanks installed at the Avedoere Power Station in Copenhagen

Heat accumulation

This has been done for several reasons:

  • To optimise production from small-scale CHP plants
  • To optimise production from large extraction CHP plants
  • To optimise operation of solid fuel boilers
  • To level daily heat load variations
  • To serve as pressure maintenance
  • To serve as water storage
  • To provide the peak hour load on the coldest day

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Simple and cost-effective solutions hold the key to the future market development of district heating in Western countries and the survival of small local distribution systems in Central and Eastern European states.

Simple technical solutions

Obviously advanced solutions often attract the most attention.  This is not fair since one could, based on the Danish experiences, design small, simple systems with the following main characteristics:

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The transmission network in Greater Copenhagen

The transmission network in Greater Copenhagen

Curious to learn more?

You will find more interesting topics on the latest district energy development in our Hot Cool articles. And on this page you will learn all about District Energy and how it powers modern cities today.