by Linda Bertelsen
Green pattern with triangles

Danish district heating solutions, in cooperation with industry and the electricity sector, can ensurenot only meeting the goal of a 70% greenhouse gas reduction but also export solutions to Europe.

By Jesper Koch, Head of research, Danish District Heating Association

Today 72% of Danish electricity production and 76% of our district heating (DH)-production is green. In 2030 both sectors will be entirely based on renewable energy. The most cost-efficient way to succeed is by connecting the energy sectors, industry, transport, and production of RE fuels closely together.

Here, DH becomes the central player to get a better economy in the fluctuating RE sources, excess heat from industry, carbon capture process, and the production of fuels from Power-to-X.

For years, the electricity sector and DH have entered a partnership with benefits for both parties. Now is the time for us to expand sector integration. Denmark’s proud cogeneration (CHP) adventure is an excellent example of collaboration, where excess heat from electricity production has provided sustainable DH to the majority of the 1.85 million households today.

And the electricity sector has, conversely, benefited from greater competitiveness in the electricity market. Many DH plants have now adjusted production to not only produce electricity but also to use electricity from especially sun and wind in large heat pumps and electric boilers. In this way, DH can deliver competitive heat and, at the same time, act as a large battery for the electricity sector, balancing large amounts of fluctuating electrical energy.

The integration must be expanded.

In the future, the concept of sector integration will have to be expanded. This is not only due to the climate target of a 70% CO2 reduction and the current energy crisis but also to the fact that Denmark has a unique chance to become Europe’s green energy hub. We are standing at a crossroads where supply security must be rethought with a very ambitious climate objective in both the Danish and European contexts.

The situation with sky-high natural gas and electricity prices today is in many ways reminiscent of the energy crisis back in the 70s. Now we must free ourselves completely from energy imports from Russia and, on top of that, phase out the use of fossil fuels and probably reduce nuclear power and biomass dependency in European countries.

But how do we solve the dilemma? In Denmark, we must harvest as much wind and sun as possible and partly export to our neighboring countries. We must develop hydrogen-based technologies to produce green artificial fertilizers for Europe’s agriculture and new clean fuels for shipping, aviation, and heavy land transport. DH must be brought into play here. The
hydrogen-based processes emit a significant amount of heat for heating our homes.

DH is already a skilled player here. Soon, CO2 capture will take place at larger waste incineration plants while green electricity can be used to refine CO2 and hydrogen into electro fuels. And the heat from the processes can be used in district heating.

The Amager Resource Center is an example. Another example can be found in collaborations with the industry on hydrogen production and DH. In Esbjerg and Fredericia – two cities in Denmark -a better business case for PtX plants is created by selling excess heat from PtX plants to the nearest DH company. This means that hydrogen factories can increase production and income.

Sector integration also takes place when surplus heat from industry is used in DH or when geothermal energy is used on a large scale, as in Aarhus, Denmark, in a few years.

Denmark’s and Europe’s green transition and way out of natural gas should be handled through sector integration, ultimately ensuring more societal value from our energy resources. In this way, society create new green jobs and higher value from the wind turbines, and not least it contributes very much to Europe becoming carbon free.

One of the means to achieve this is extensive use of the data and digitalization provided by the DH companies across the value chain. Over 65% of Danish DH companies are already digitized, and several more will join for the benefit of themselves and Danish society.

“District heating can become Europe’s path to an effetive green transition” was published in Hot Cool, edition no. 4/2023
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Meet the author

Jesper Koch
Head of research, Danish District Heating Association