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More district heating in the pipeline

Concerns over carbon emissions and energy security in Europe has meant district heating schemes are on the verge of a boom.

European Commission advisors have been pushing for greater emphasis on the efficiency of heating networks recently, arguing that the emphasis has been, until now, too much on making carbon savings in electricity generation.

District heat can be a way of turning negatives into positives; using waste heat usefully and locally. A report from the International Energy Agency estimated the scale of waste heat from existing power stations in the world’s 34 richest nations to be enough to 10 times the EU’s total energy consumption. Clearly there is a lot of heat to go around, if the infrastructure can be put in place to use it.

A study in 2009 suggested that district heating could provide 14 per cent of UK heat demand, provide access to renewable energy for those who cannot afford to install their own, and reduce costs for consumers. Though there are in the region of 2,000 schemes up and running now, it is a rising figure. There are some significant-sized district projects active in the UK, notable for both scale and innovation.

A new biomass-to-energy plant owned by E.ON in Sheffield will offer an 8km pipe network that local businesses and homes can join, which utilises the waste heat from electricity generation. Big names have already got on board with the idea, including South Yorkshire Police, Sheffield Forgemasters and Sheffield International Venues.

In London, a housing association is using smart metering to monitor the real-time performance of a district heating scheme in Wembley, which enables faults in the system to be quickly detected, and efficiency maximised.  Octavia Housing also says it will help them target those at risk of fuel poverty with added support.

District heating can’t stand on its own – it must come as part of a package of measures, including simply reducing demand through the energy efficiency of homes and businesses. This is something Paul Voss, the director of Euroheat & Power, emphasises:

The ideal prescription is probably a combination of demand reduction measures in buildings, further development of district heating and cooling networks in cities and heat pumps where demand is less dense.”

There is no one way to reduce carbon emissions from heating – but you can expect to see more of your heat coming from sources closer to home in the coming years.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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