Heating homes with excess heat from power plants instead of individual boilers seems like a climate no-brainer, but given its historical reliance on coal, does the technology have a place in the clean energy transition?

hen Paul Voss, managing director at industry association Euroheat and Power, was first approached about working in district heating for Danish industrial company Danfoss, he said no.

“I had seen a couple of big systems in China and I thought, ‘that is just making heat from coal’,” he recalls. “But then I talked to my brother, and he said, ‘aren’t you aware of what they are doing in Denmark?’ I went to Denmark, and I noticed there were no chimneys in Copenhagen because there is no combustion for heat. I took the job, and ended up falling in love with the technology.”

This is the dichotomy at the heart of district heating’s role in the energy transition. On the one hand, it is a no-brainer that pumping excess heat generated by a power plant or industrial facility around a city to heat people’s homes is good for climate change. On the other hand, these large systems, which were especially popular in Communist countries, were historically mostly fed with coal.


Pipes move water in a heating and cooling network in Boulogne-Billancourt, on the western outskirts of Paris. (Photo by Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images)

In the age of climate action, cities with these old systems can, in theory at least, boast of lower heating emissions. This is important, given that 50% of global final energy consumption – and 40% of the world’s CO2 emissions – comes from heat. Heating buildings with individual boilers or furnaces is the least efficient way of keeping them warm. One of the most efficient ways is using the excess heat generated by power plants or other sources that would otherwise be wasted.

A combined heat and power (CHP) plant typically has site efficiency (usable energy out divided by energy in) of around 75%. A normal power plant has less than 33%. However, the situation becomes (...) 

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An article written by Dave Keating, US journalist and conference moderator covering European affairs from Brussels, with a focus on environment and energy.


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Last updated on the 04-03-2021 by Construction21 Communication

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