An innovative solution for domestic heating systems

The Utility Saving Expert guide to District Heating

Homes, businesses and public buildings can get a supply of low-carbon energy by using district heating. Energy efficient and good for the environment, district heating presents a less wasteful source of energy that can deliver heat and power to an entire community.

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The history of district heating

District heating is an innovative technology that comes from Denmark. Through its district heating networks, Denmark supplies energy into six large central networks for major cities and urban regions, plus 400 decentralised zones across the rest of the country.

As one of the world’s most energy-efficient countries, it’s no surprise that around two thirds of Danish households are connected to district heating. In fact, the widespread use of district heating is a major contributing factor to Denmark’s low carbon emissions, which have been decreasing over the past decades.

Denmark’s district heating timeline

  • 1903 – Denmark built its first combined heat and power plant, which was also a sustainable waste management plant.
  • 1920-30s – Denmark developed district heating systems using wasted heat from electricity production.
  • 1970s – Following the oil crisis, there was a rapid expansion of collective district heating systems in Denmark, including vast pipe installation under towns and cities.

However, the idea of collective heating and hot water runs further back in the history books, as early as the Roman Baths. In one form or another, similar systems have existed in:

  • Ancient Rome
  • Medieval Europe
  • The USA in the industrial age
  • Eastern Europe in the Soviet era

District heating in the UK

In the 1950s, the UK built its first district heating network to reduce carbon emissions and operational costs. This was the Pimlico District Heating Undertaking (PDHU), which used waste heat from the old Battersea Power Station that was transported to Pimlico by being pumped under the River Thames.

Within eight years of being connected to the district heating system, Battersea had become one of the world’s most efficient power stations of its time, operating with a thermal efficiency of 25 percent.

The district heating in Pimlico has since transitioned to a new energy centre to heat the water and is still operational today.

Despite this early uptake of district heating, the innovative method of supplying homes and businesses with heating and hot water on a collective basis is still less common in the UK, and currently, less than 5 percent of heating energy in the UK is sourced from low carbon supplies.

However, an investment of £40 million from the UK Government was launched in February 2020, together with an announcement that seven new district heating network projects are planned.

Most effective in an urban landscape, it’s likely that district heating will become more widespread in densely populated cities and may help to tackle fuel poverty in these areas, whilst reducing housing management costs.

The heat networks will be built in London, Leeds, Bristol and Liverpool, supplying clean power to around 30,000 homes, giving residents access to low carbon heating. This is expected to reduce more than 150,000 tonnes of carbon over the course of fifteen years, the equivalent of planting 400,000 trees.

The investment demonstrates that whilst district heating may require up-front costs, it is a forward-thinking approach that will be cost-effective and energy-efficient in the long term.

How district heating works

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