On the face of it, District Heating presents several logistical, structural and financial challenges. However, look a little deeper and it´s apparent that District Heating has the potential to quickly pay for itself and deliver significant returns for the economy as a whole. Payback times can be as short as 2-3 years. Importantly, the cost of inaction is far higher.
The EU currently wastes €500 billion of potentially usable energy each year; it is estimated that District Heating can reduce the amount the EU spends on heating by as much as 11% by the year 2050, which represents a saving of €14 billion.
Implementing District Heating will also transfer money from energy imports to investments in renewable technologies and ways to recycle ´waste´ energy.
Not only would this translate into major benefits for the environment (doubling District Heating across 32 European countries could save 404 million tons of CO2 a year), but a huge amount of local industry could be generated in the process, creating an estimated 220,000 jobs over the next 35 years.
At a local level, District Heating networks have the advantage of building on our existing infrastructure by physically sitting alongside the pipes and cables that already lie underneath cities.
This means it´s possible to make the most of integrated planning opportunities and implement or upgrade a District Heating network in conjunction with other routine maintenance work, eg, on sewers, phone lines, etc. This helps share costs and limits disruption.
From an investors´ perspective, all this can significantly lower capital and running costs and, consequently, make for a much more attractive investment opportunity.
A scalable platform
Another great advantage of District Energy is that it can make a strong impact at a local level; it does not require nationwide upheaval.
Where possible, communities can elect a more sustainable way to heat homes and manage natural resources. In this way, District Heating can be implemented both democratically and progressively, growing the network to include new cities as benefits begin to take effect.
The time is now
In spite of the challenges that District Heating presents in its initial stages, it remains the best long term answer to many of the energy challenges facing our cities.
Even in the short term, District Heating systems are becoming more commercially competitive every day, given the rising price of fossil fuel and the socio-economic cost of environmental impact.
District Heating presents a unique opportunity to reduce fuel imports, improve energy efficiency and enhance heating supply in a cost-effective, scalable way.