by Linda Bertelsen
Planet Earth Europa, America, Africa, Asia, Middle East

The International Energy Agency IEA publishes a range of unique and detailed energy statistics worldwide. Here we share IEA data, giving you an outlook on the status and development of district heating and cooling in the World.

The IEA reports and quality Data & Statistics are ‘Copied and pasted’ by Henrik Søndergaard, Editor of Hot|Cool, DBDH.

Published in Hot Cool, edition no. 4/2020 | ISSN 0904 9681 |

Interest in district heating and cooling (DHC) in cities is often motivated by a combination of energy security, economic, environmental, and governance considerations. Indeed, DHC networks are potentially one of the most effective means to harness renewable energy to meet the heating and cooling demand because they offer:

  • Economies of scale and high-efficiency potential through the aggregation of demand.
  • A way to circumvent building suitability and consumer awareness barriers.
  • Renewable energy storage possibilities (thanks to thermal inertia) and the opportunity to integrate thermal storage technologies and benefit from the heat and power coupling.

This potential remains largely unexploited, however, as there are opportunities in many countries to deploy new DHC infrastructure, improve the energy efficiency of ageing ones (e.g., with better-insulated pipes and higher-efficiency heat generators), and integrate higher shares of renewables into existing networks.

The DHC outlook

Today, district heating (DH) is far from everywhere – and only green somewhere. If DH is the first step, the next step is the green DH transition – a giant leap for mankind.

In 2018, a little less than 6% of global heat consumption was supplied through DHC networks and is expected to increase lightly by 4% until 2024. But, as heat demand is rising too, DHC share in total heat demand remains flat.

Fossil fuels are still by far the dominant energy source in DHC globally due to the extensive use of naturalgas in Russia and coal in China; overall, renewables accounted for less than 8% of the energy used in district heating 2018. Yet, renewable energy consumption for DHC increased more than two-thirds during 2009-18, mainly due to the extensive transition from fossil fuels to bioenergy in the European Union. Bioenergy is indeed the largest source of renewable energy in DH worldwide by far.

Even though heat pumps and solar thermal systems still account for only a marginal share of DH energy, development continues, as new high-efficiency DH systems with lower operating temperatures make their integration possible.

However, renewable energy consumption for DHC is anticipated to expand more than 40% globally, contributing a little more than 8% of renewable heat consumption growth over 2019-24. Outside of China, the expansion of renewables in DHC decelerates from the previous six-year period in many countries and regions. In Russia – where district network infrastructure is old and very inefficient – and in the United States, renewable expansion in DHC remains limited or non-existent due to lack of policy support.

So, where to look for inspiration on exploiting the opportunities to deploy new DHC infrastructure and improve renewable energy? Of course, large countries have large markets, and not to name the obvious, when comparing DHC markets, it is more relevant to rank the share of district heating in total energy consumption of the countries and rank by renewable energy share in the district heating networks.

This story shows markets where DHC penetration is high – but black. Others being small and green. And a few DHC markets where penetration is high and renewable energy share is high too. This is where to look for inspiration!


WEC: World Energy Consumption*
14.280.000 ktoe = 166.000.000 GWh

DHC Share
60.000 ktoe = 9.965.000 GWh
6% of WEC

RE: Renewable Energy in DHC 
68.800 ktoe = 800.000 GWh

*IEA defines one tonne of oil quivalent:
1 toe = 11.63 MWh; 1 ktoe = 11.16 GWh


16% of WEC

DHC 1.5%

RE in DHC 2%


One third of all DH in the world is in Russia! Despite a decline since 2012 DHC still provides more than one-third of the country’s heat consumption and the share of DH in total energy consumption is 22%.

5% of WEC

DHC 22% of Russia’s energy consumption 

RE in DHC 2%


DHC networks are well established in the European Union, where they meet more than 8% of total heat demand. Finland, Denmark, Sweden and Baltic countries have the highest penetrations of district heating in Europe.
European countries are expected to be the second-largest contributors to projected renewables growth during 2019-24, mostly because more bioenergy is used in existing and new DHC systems.

11% of WEC DHC

DHC 8% of Europe’s consumption

UK DHC share 1% RE in DHC 2%
Germany DHC share 4% RE in DHC 14%
France DHC share 2% RE in DHC 42%
Finland DHC share 16% RE in DHC 42%
Sweden DHC share 13% RE in DHC 70%
Denmark DHC share 18% RE in DHC 60%



China is responsible for more than one-quarter of global heat demand, and one third of all DHC in the world. China has the fastest-growing district heating capacity in the world as well. In 2005, district networks heated around 40% of floor area in the provinces that make up the Northern Urban Heating Area. Since then, over 95% of floor area growth resulting from greater urbanization has been covered by district heating. The heat supplied through DHC has almost doubled, amounting to 8% of the country’s heat consumption in 2018.
Replacing inefficient individual coal-fired boilers with district heating systems and using alternative fuels such as bioenergy and waste in these systems, is part of China’s strategy to fight air pollution in large cities.

Renewable energy consumption for DHC is anticipated to expand more than 40% globally over 2019-24 with China responsible for more than 80% of this increase.

22% of WEC

DHC 5% of China’s energy consumption

RE in DHC 1%


Meet the author

Henrik Søndergaard
Editor of Hot|Cool, DBDH
“District Heating in the World” was published in Hot Cool, edition no. 4/2020. You can download the article here: