More and more cities, regions, and countries set a clear target for a sustainable fossil-free or carbon-neutral future. But big dreams are hard to achieve even though plans are extensive.
By Morten Jordt Duedahl, Business Development Manager, DBDH
Planning and stakeholder engagement are vital factors for achieving a city’s goals – not least when it involves large infrastructure investments like district heating (DH).
Two European regions have recently started making heat plans for taking them a crucial step closer to their goals. One, in Scotland, for implementing a zoning regime for district heating. The other, Baden Württemberg, where the 103 largest municipalities are obligated to make heat plans soon (not district heating plans), is an example of how national or regional authorities “help” local authorities get started.
Heat planning will benefit many people.
Well-performed heat planning gives building developers certainty about what to expect in the future. It provides DH investors security for their investment (in Denmark, most often the community or the city) and the customers to have their homes heated as best possible. With a plan, “We know we do the right thing!” It assures local authorities that their city will develop the way they intended. So, heat planning can and should be an active, value-creating exercise integrated into the city’s overall planning.
Heat planning is finding the best possible solution for a city living up to its aspirations, i.e., sustainability, no pollution, low heat costs, the security of supply, a liveable city – and a great place to live with everything that can be added to that equation like no pollution, low heat costs, security of supply and much more.
Cities look into the product catalog of zero-emission solutions, and soon, they find DH the most proven and well-documented way to reach their targets.
Good heat planning will identify which areas are best suited for specific heating solutions and which should have other solutions – to benefit end-users, investors, and the municipality. It protects against double-ups on unnecessary, expensive infrastructure systems.
In Denmark, a heat plan must demonstrate its value in three segments:
- the DH company
- the end users (the customers)
- to society as a whole
If it does not benefit the customers, no one will buy it – and only complaints are piling up. If not beneficial for the DH company, it will lose money and eventually go bankrupt or increase existing customers’ prices. If not beneficial for society overall, the DH project cannot be legally approved as it is not acceptable if it has a negative effect on the rest of society.
It is in no way an easy-to-do calculation. There is a set way of calculating heat plan and project value in Denmark, considering the Danish framework conditions and the general background of rules and traditions in Denmark.
However, as seen in the videos, securing benefits for different groups creates a robust planning platform with clear goals. Here, I find the value of good planning – making sure we all know the basics of our decisions – actually, no matter who “we” are in this sentence. The “we” can be city representatives, banks, investors, district heating companies, cities, etc. With a good plan, we know we do the right thing!
Seeing is believing
Watch the videos of heat planning on www.dbdh.dk and be inspired to create a realistic heat plan with clear goals by inviting all stakeholders and creating “our” project.
In the videos, Tom Diget, Viborg DH, and Jesper Møller Larsen, Aalborg DH explain how they plan to heat. Interestingly, Tom even visits potential customers to explain why they should not choose DH for their area. It creates a trustful relationship, and it is valuable for further communications in the future when things have changed. DH is beneficial.
Heat planning is a continuous process; new technology, cost structures, and legislation will change things and lead to new plans – new ‘best solutions.’
As Jesper says: “5 years ago, I thought we had the FINAL plan – but we have updated it every half year.”
Don’t fight against supremacy.
During stakeholder sessions, Tom realized that many customers were reluctant to change to DH due to the heat-interface-unit’s up-front investment. Viborg listened and made a “rent-a-unit” offer, with only a small monthly fee – and it was a huge success.
As Tom said, “Nobody can compete against a family not going on a skiing holiday.”
Meet your customer – stakeholder engagement.
Stakeholder interaction is essential to understand the customer’s needs and challenges and for adjusting the product delivered – this is told many times in the videos: “Go and talk to them,” “Explain your offer,” and “Invite yourself for coffee.”
Closely related to the planning process and as an integral part, we find stakeholder engagement. I prefer to see a piece of stakeholder engagement as customer interaction – we are out there to sell a product or a service. One must understand the customer’s needs and challenges and develop and adapt the product.
But there is something behind that, of course, something that also lies behind Nike’s “Just do it!” – that is being prepared, well-informed, and, not least, ready to listen. I guess Nike tries to encourage us all to practice and train hard – and the only way to do this is by doing it!
Tom explains how they reach out when he, for instance, learns that someone has to change the gas boilers – this is a window of opportunity a well-prepared “fit” DH person will follow up. He approaches the housing association, owners, and others and engages in a dialogue to learn how DH can provide value. Maybe DH is just about the exact cost. Still, we should not be afraid to address other benefits – “What is the value of no noise from 1,600 individual heat pumps?”, no hassle from maintaining and operating systems, improved service and comfort, attractive “get on prices,” the green argument, etc.
In Viborg, they realized that some were reluctant to switch to DH due to the relatively significant up-front investment in the heat interface unit. An investment you could fear would be partly lost if you wanted to sell the house in the future. Viborg then made a “rent a unit” so customers could have a DH unit installed with no payment up-front.
The cost is converted into a small monthly fee. Further, it is profitable almost immediately, as experts take over the unit’s control at the DH company to optimize and find failures much better than most people, thereby limiting the heating cost.
Probably the world’s smallest DH system – a visit to Føns district heating company
Ole Back, the board chairman of Føns DH company, has “just done it!”. 40 or so houses in the small village of Føns had changed their oil boilers (the window of opportunity), or house owners were tired of the hassle with their small biomass boilers. A group of citizens gathered to search for a better solution. Of course, DH quickly came to mind – in Germany, ‘Nahwärme.’
The world’s smallest DH system is green (heated by waste wood from industry), offers lower prices, and is a plus when you sell your house – in short, it is a success! The cooperative forms a voluntary group of citizens working free of charge – some are on the board, and others take care of the daily operation. Today, the 40 houses are 48 (20% growth), with lower heating costs than before.
The municipality supported the process from idea to take-off for two years. I encourage you to meet Ole, the board chairman, in the video from this lovely grass-root initiative in Føns.
Deutsch-Dänischer Dialog Wärmenetze – Baden Württemberg, Germany
A long and fancy name for close cooperation between Denmark (The Danish Energy Agency and DBDH) and Baden Württemberg (Klima und Energie Agentur Baden-Württemberg), running now for about five years with great success. In these five years, we have exchanged knowledge, shared experiences, and inspired each other. Pre-corona often visited each other for site visits, conferences, and seminars. This cooperation is here to stay – we are not done yet.
The latest activity concerns heat planning and stakeholder engagement, as a new heat law is implemented in BW. The outcome is eight videos with expert interviews on district heating. Among them, you will meet with Jesper Møller Larsen, Head of District Heating in Aalborg DH company, Maria, who is in charge of getting new customers on board, also from Aalborg, and Tom Diget, Head of Distribution in Viborg DH company. Their short recommendation is, “Just do it!” “Any plan is better than no plan” and “Go out and talk to the potential customers!”
In the videos, skilled heat planners talk about stakeholder engagement, heat planning, and the value of heat planning. Their experience is worth sharing anywhere – even though a few conditions are specific to Danish.
The videos may never win a Golden Globe, but they show heat planning in a very low-key way and inspire stakeholders to engage very well.
See the videos at dbdh.dk/publications
For further information, please contact Morten Jordt Duedahl at firstname.lastname@example.org.