Should we Follow Denmark’s Example with District Heating?

Why Denmark Leads the way in District Heating?

Beneath the streets of Denmark is an enormous network of pipes just like in any other developed country in Europe. The difference? These pipes provide heating direct to houses. Whereas most of us in the UK have our own individual boiler, in Denmark they are using district heating. In this country it has fallen somewhat under the radar, but for others it is fast becoming a major source of green and cheap energy.

The idea of district heating rose out of the oil crisis in the 1970s where Denmark suffered badly with blackouts and shutdowns. At the time the country was importing almost all of its oil and the effects of a long, cold winter left the politicians with a stark choice – continue to be dependent on external sources of energy or find an alternative. More than many countries, Denmark has invested heavily in the renewables market and particularly in district heating – huge boilers and systems that service a whole area and bring hot water directly into houses and businesses.

What is District and Community Heating?

A district heating operation works to deliver heat via a network of insulated pipes and utilises hot water or steam produced by one or two major sources. It is energy efficient in that it keeps down energy wastage and can balance out the supply of heat, for example providing more to domestic suburbs in the evening when most people are at home.

With district heating like that found in Demark, everything that is possibly wasteful is funnelled into the system. From the heat produced by factories to public transport networks, everything is captured and used. According to The Guardian, “district heating networks provide heat to a whopping 63% of Danish households.”

The country is no longer dependent on oil imports and, with the help of its renewable energy investment, it is becoming less and less dependent on the outside world.

Would District Heating Work in the UK?

It is a major step to move towards district heating for our towns and cities – you would need to have the infrastructure in place and the central ‘boiler’ to produce the hot water or steam. If you take London as an example though, a report by Buro Happold suggests that the city is wasting heat and that waste is enough to provide 70% of its heating needs, if the infrastructure was present to capture it and feed it into businesses and households.

The difference is that the UK has spent the last 40 or so years developing its continuing dependence on gas and other fossil fuels, despite the recent growing importance of renewables. We remain far behind countries like Denmark who have invested heavily in systems that reduce their reliability on outside sources for their energy needs.

The Department of Energy and Climate change is now playing catch up, putting in plans for towns and cities to become connected to district networks. Unfortunately, it is only at the planning stage, with many councils still undertaking feasibility studies. The plan is for 40% of properties to be connected to a heat network by 2050.

In Denmark, that figure is already at 63% with the added advantage of lower heating bills and a significantly reduced carbon footprint.