US graduate students visits stronghold of district heating

Date: 04/06/2013

May 2013 Study Tour of Energy in Denmark

On their blog, which is a compendium of observations and insights from 11 graduate students who toured Danish green energy initiative sites during the week of May 13-17, 2013, an intersting site visit is recorded. The Denmark Energy Study Tour is delivered by Professor Jeff Gramlich as an MBA course elective at the University of Southern Maine:

On the second day of touring businesses in Denmark, we visited Frederiksberg Forsyning. Frederiksberg Forsyning (Supply) operates four public utility services, including: district heating supply, water supply, gas supply, and waste water. Focusing on the district heating aspect of their services, I learned quickly how evident it is that Denmark is much more carbon efficient and environmentally cautious compared to the United States, specifically Maine. What was the deciding factor that lead Denmark to adopt the district heating approach? Denmark had reached a point of severe over dependency on expensive fossil fuels, low efficiency on energy distribution, and intensified air quality concerns. All of these issues were brought to their attention and needed to be resolved; it just so happened that district heating began to develop more forcefully during the same time. District heating was their solution.
Ninety-eight percent of all heating provided in Copenhagen comes from the district-heating grid. In other words, only 144 houses in the city have not joined the district heating system; now that is quite an accomplishment, attaining cooperation from a majority of the city. This district (radiant) heating approach in Denmark comes from a local supply, rather than from individual houses, as is the case in Maine. In the US, natural gas is the primary heating fuel and district heating is much less common, but it’s not to say that district heating isn’t feasible in Maine.
Renewable fuels such as biomass, the most common fuel source used for district heating, is less energy intensive than a traditional heating network. Less energy intensive results in fewer emissions exerted. District heating allows an area to be much more efficient by using local heat and fuel sources that would typically be lost or remain unused. For example, some people use heat at night and some people use it in the morning, which spreads out the use of the available heating supply. Individual houses, on the other hand, typically do not use the heating supply consistently throughout a 24-hour period, leaving the rest to remain unused or lost. In Denmark, their total heat loses from the power plant to the farthest point in Denmark is only 1-2%. Compare that with heat loses in the United States, which are typically around 15% of energy lost in transmission, it is evident that Denmark is a few steps ahead of the game and much more resourceful.
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