by Linda Bertelsen

We better get this right! One way is to understand what best practice is and how others have done. Best practice can inform us and provide guidance and inspiration to both newcomers and more experienced practitioners.

By Morten Jordt Duedahl (DBDH) and Frits Verheij (TNO)

This was acknowledged by EU Joint Research Centre (JRC) early this year. They initiated a study of European Best Practices performed by TNO and the Danish Board of District Heating (DBDH). In this study, TNO and DBDH interviewed DH operators and representatives from municipalities of 8 European DH projects to identify their best practices and then condense that to general best practices. 

How to best plan and construct a district heating network

District heating (DH) networks are extensive and, not least, long-term investments. They play a significant role in our future energy system; however, they influence a lot of citizens directly through the energy bill. Launching such a project requires a lot of courage as it will affect your city for many years to come. At the same time, DH networks play a significant role in cities’ green transition towards a carbon zero society. 

Overview of the general best practices for the urban planning phase
Overview of the general best practies for the urban planning phase

Plan well, and you will succeed.

Planning is always essential. For DH projects, planning is a vital part of any project. The study showed that a good and well-structured planning process is a crucial step towards success. Several cities said they could have done more planning to avoid a pitfall in the construction phase. The thing mentioned as most important for the successful construction of DH networks was “Plan well.” No excuses accepted – we should all meet at the planning table! 

Seek, and you shall find

Another best practice that was mentioned by many was “seek inspiration and support from others.” The planning and construction of DH networks is, for many cities, not something that is everyday work. Reaching out to colleagues can give you a lot of knowledge, information, inspiration, and support – colleagues in your own country and from abroad. All interviewees mentioned the national network as an invaluable source, as this network can easier relate the specific project to local conditions. Antwerp and Salaspilz also mentioned their international relations as a very powerful inspiration as they found it challenging to find the relevant experience locally. 

Overview of the eight selected use cases
Overview of the eight selected use cases

What have we done to determine best practices?

The Danish Board of District Heating (DBDH) and TNO from the Netherlands investigated the best practices in planning and construction of district heating. Specifically, they asked JRC for best practices for networks being built in an existing build environment. No greenfield areas were allowed in the study! And the projects had to be relatively new, and all built within the last five years.

Locations of the eight selected use cases map created with Google Maps.
Locations of the eight selected use cases map created with Google Maps.

DBDH and TNO interviewed eight cities from across Europe and aimed at finding cities as diverse as possible. The eight cities were Aalborg in Denmark, Salaspilz in Latvia, Olsztyn in Poland, Madrid in Spain, Antwerp in Belgium, Bruchsal in Germany, Milan in Italy, and Drechtsteden in the Netherlands, so they covered most of the EU. The cities’ background was also diverse from minimal experience (e.g., Antwerp, with the first project) to vast experience in planning and construction of DH networks (e.g., Aalborg and Salaspilz, who has operated DH system for decades).

The interviewees discuss the results
The interviewees discussing the results

The interviewees discuss the results

The second most important best  practice was – find inspiration from others. This project took its own medicine and made a webinar where the results was presented to a wider audience. Both the case from Antwerp and from Bruchsal presented their case and through a discussion of the findings they compared to their own experience.
Watch the webinar here

They interviewed each city thoroughly to understand what they found essential for carrying out a successful project. First, the DH company or the operator of the DH system was interviewed, followed by the relevant person at the municipal organization who was involved in the planning and approval process. They made both a written questionnaire and a live interview. In addition, they conducted desk research on the eight countries to provide context to the best practices concerning energy policy and support mechanisms for DH. 

They then distilled the outcome of all these interviews into a series of best practices through a scoring system. The more often a best practice is mentioned, the more important it is. Many of the best practices were uniform across the different parameters (geography, experience, etc.). They would be relevant to a vast majority of cities looking into making a new DH network. 

They concluded that the list of best practices could be used as a checklist for planners to identify a series of checkpoints that are important to be aware of. After finishing the report, they made a podcast and webinar, where the results were discussed in detail (see text boxes). 

25 best practices

The list of best practices is long – we identified 16 best practices for planning and 9 for construction. Again, the mere fact that nearly twice as many best practices on planning were identified compared to best practices on construction indicates that proper planning is the one factor that can make a district heating successful. 

Many of the best practices are not very surprising. They all confirm and elaborate on what many would know and understand as standard practice. The stronghold here is two-fold. First, this report brings these best practices together and confirms them. Secondly, the best practices are now presented in a structured, documented, and commented form ready to use as a checklist. Some best practices do not apply to everyone, but just the option of removing things from your list was mentioned by several as a great advantage. This advantage will instill trust in both the planning and the construction phase for both experienced and future practitioners in the planning and construction of district heating networks.

Overview of the general best practices for the construction phase
Overview of the general best practices for the construction phase

What is the best available technology?

One best practice did generate some interest – “Adhere to the best available technology.” Some understood that one should use the latest most advanced technology, e.g., extremely low-temperature networks. But especially among the cities with longer experience, the understanding of the best available technology can differ from that understanding. What the best available technology is might vary between projects. It is a balance between investment costs, operational costs, and other relevant criteria such as sustainability. The recommendation was, investigate your options and choose the one that is best according to your standards – it can also be best available well tested and documented technology. 

Focus on EU – with worldwide relevance

The interview was done with 8 EU cities to ensure a strong EU focus. The results, however, have been “tested” in a short worldwide questionnaire. The findings from this test are that there is no reason to believe that the findings are not relevant for all DH projects, no matter where in the world they are. Besides that, the conclusion was confirmed by all. It is, of course, essential to consider local conditions and framework conditions and how they influence how a project can be developed. 

For further information please contact: Frits Verheij, frits.verheij@tno.nl
Morten Jordt Duedahl, md@dbdh.dk

The report can be downloaded

To fully familiarize yourself with all the best practices and understand much more about the 8 cases
Please find the report here

“Planning is fast-tracking to success” was published in Hot Cool, edition no. 4/2021
Planning is fast-tracking to success, article by Morten Jordt Duedahl and Frits Verheij
Dowload and print the article here

Meet the authors

Frits Verheij
Advisor on smart urban energy, energy transition and energy innovation policy
Morten Jordt Duedahl
Business Development Manager, DBDH