The use of district heating systems varies significantly worldwide. Although the world’s first district heating systems were introduced in the United States in 1877, the country only uses them to meet 4% of its needs (See sidebar). Russia is the world leader (55%), but its systems are small and old. China is expanding its systems at a fast pace. The situation in Europe presents sharp contrasts.
Contrasting Use of District Heating Worldwide
District heating systems have been providing warmth to homes for decades around the world, although their development has been very uneven, according to data from 20171.
- Russia is the global leader, with more than 17,000 district heating systems serving 44 million customers. The country alone accounts for 55% of installed district heating worldwide. But its systems are small, old and often poorly maintained, despite initiatives to modernize technical aspects and management (see Close-Up: “Moscow, a City Undergoing Transformation”). They are 98%-supplied by fossil fuels, of which 75% natural gas.
- In China, district heating was not introduced until the 1980s, but its systems are modern and expanding rapidly, growing by 25% from 2005 to 2010, in step with the country’s growth. The new systems mainly operate using cogenerationThe simultaneous production of both heat (thermal energy) and power... , that is, the simultaneous production of both heatIn the field of statistical thermodynamics today, heat refers to the transfer of the thermal agitation of the particles making up matter... and powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... in the same facility. This technique improves the system’s overall energy efficiencyIn economic terms, energy efficiency refers to the efforts made to reduce the energy consumption of a system... .
- Japan, where neighborhood “energy communities” have been growing at a fast pace (see Close-Up: “Japan: The Vibrant Development of Smart Communities”), is developing district heating and cooling systems, the latter of which have become the most widespread.
- In Europe, 4,500 systems supply heat to 100 million residents across 32 countries, accounting for 10% of the heating market. A market penetration rate of 50% has been reached in Denmark (going as high as 98% in Copenhagen), Finland, Sweden, Lithuania and, of course, Iceland, which has a rate of 95% thanks to geothermalDescribes the technology used to tap subsurface heat to produce energy... energy. Germany (13%) is well ahead of France (5%), which is slightly in front of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. In Europe, geothermal energy powers a total of 240 district heating systems and its use has been expanding primarily by means of medium- and low-temperature heat pumps (see Feature reports: “Geothermal Energy”). Geothermal plants can even be located in central districts of the most densely populated cities.
France had more than 750 district heating systems in 2017, mainly located in urban areas.
In France, a district heating observatory has been set up by the French government and various organizations2. In 2017, more than 750 district heating systems had been listed, the majority of which were located in major urban centers. Three million people were connected to a district heating system in the residential sector and approximately three million more were covered in the tertiary sector, which includes education, offices/administration and healthcare facilities.
Some Examples of Systems
- Dunkirk and Chevilly-Larue, France:
Begun in 1985, the Deux Synthes district heating system in Dunkirk is France’s biggest industrial waste heatLike waste energy, waste heat is heat whose release during a process or the manufacture of a product is unavoidable... recovery network, thanks to the ArcelorMittal steel plant. Two recovery units capture heat from the blast furnaces, which provide 55% to 60% of the network’s total heat. The remainder comes from cogeneration (combined heat and power) plants3. The heat is distributed to 180 buildings, 6,000 public housing units and private homes, a hospital complex, schools and other public buildings via 50 kilometers of pipes. Once installed, the system is carbon neutral and 90% of the industrial dust is recovered, improving air quality.
The district heating system for the Ile-de-France municipalities of Chevilly-Larue, L’Haÿ-les-Roses and Villejuif uses a different source of energy, namely a geothermal aquifer located more than 1,500 meters underground whose temperature varies between 57°C and 85°C. Created in 1985 and renovated in 2016, the system serves some 45,000 residents via 29 smaller networks, making it Europe’s largest geothermal district heating system4.
100 million: The number of European citizens, across 32 countries, benefiting from 4,500 district heating networks.
- Gothenburg, Sweden:
Sixty percent of the residents of Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city, are supplied with heat and hot water by a district heating system5. The heat is provided at 80% from the recovery process: 27% from waste incinerationTechnique used to convert waste into energy. The waste is burned, producing heat, power or both. , 30% from refineries, 19% from power plants, and 5% from wastewater. Renewable sources account for 15% of direct generation, with fossil fuels now representing just 5%. The most remarkable feature of the system is its steady expansion, thanks to the continuous backing of the authorities. The first building blocks were laid in 1953, with one, then two, fuelFuel is any solid, liquid or gaseous substance or material that can be combined with an oxidant... oil-fired power plants. In the 1970s, as oil prices soared, alternative solutions were pursued, with heat recovered from wastewater, waste incineration and two refineries. In 1990, a river-assisted cooling system was added. Wood-fired power plants were built in 2000.
- Fredericia, Denmark:
In 1983, Fredericia, a considerable port city in Denmark, began installing a district heating system fueled by heat recovered from a fertilizer plant, a refinery and incineration plants6. Four other neighboring communities introduced similar systems, which have been tied into the original one, creating a vast integrated network that supplies 55,000 homes via 75 kilometers of pipes. Integration is the system’s defining characteristic: it is managed centrally from state-of-the-art control rooms, is highly efficient and heat losses are just 3%. The annual savings is estimated at 130 million liters of fossil fuels.
New York’s Steam SystemClouds of steam billowing from underground to wreathe skyscrapers form an iconic image of the New York cityscape. This major North American city has the world’s biggest — and one of its oldest — district heating systems, created in 1882. Its 170 kilometers of pipes run under the streets of Manhattan to supply 1,800 buildings, from the Empire State Building to the United Nations. It has twice the capacity of the Paris system, which is not small. The steam that escapes from below ground is not leaking, but is created when groundwater comes in contact with hot pipes.
(2) Observatory website (in French only)
(3) France 3 video (in French only)
(4) CEREMA feature report (in French only)