The benefits of decentralised district heating supply

A typical district heating grid is typically designed and operated with one central production plant. But in a city, there are different zones that needs different temperatures. By decentralising supply, you can adjust temperatures and pressures according to demand. Watch the film to see how this can help create a much more efficient system and help integrate renewable energy sources.

The current district heating and cooling setup is not smart

District heating and cooling has become one of the most popular systems in the world, but to tap into its huge potential, we need to take an intelligent approach. 

Today, a district heating grid is typically designed with one central production plant that distributes to an entire city where there are different zones that receive the same high temperature, including industrial zones, commercial zones and domestic zones.

The problem with this approach is that these zones have different temperature and pressure demands.

Instead of just having a central supply, we can decentralise supply, which makes it possible to adjust temperatures and pressures according to demand, resulting in a much more efficient system.

Lower temperatures help integrate renewables and surplus energy

One of the most important characteristics of intelligent and more sustainable fourth-generation district heating is the low-temperature supply of water. 

Today, supply water in a central plant is usually 90°C degrees, but with decentralised supply and low-temperature zones, this can be reduced to as little as 50°C degrees.

When you lower temperatures in the grid, you can reduce heat loss through the pipes and thermal stress on the pipework while increasing capacity and reducing leakages.

Overall, that means that you need less energy to heat water, reducing both costs and CO2 emissions. Low-temperature water supply also enables district heating utilities to integrate more renewable energy sources, like geothermal energy, while the efficiency of solar thermal collectors, wind energy and surplus heat from industrial processes is increased. 

Surplus heat, in particular, holds huge potential. In Denmark there's enough surplus heat from wastewater to cover more than 20% of the national district heating needs and in Europe, heat savings can reduce the total heat demand by around 40%.

A typical district heating grid is designed with one central production plant.

By decentralising supply, it’s possible to adjust temperature and pressure according to demand.

A flexible solution that supports security of supply

Another benefit of decentralised and intelligent district heating is security of supply.

In the last few years, geopolitical tensions and the need to phase out fossil fuels have increased the awareness around energy security supply. It’s become clear that even the smallest disruption can reduce people’s safety and comfort.

One of the main advantages of district heating compared to other heating solutions is that it allows more than one type of fuel. District heating can handle different energy sources at the same time, and the production is very flexible, ultimately increasing the security of supply and production efficiency.

That means district heating networks are not constrained to using a single type of fuel like coal, oil or natural gas, which can leave consumers vulnerable to fluctuations in price like we’ve seen with the war in Ukraine and Covid-19. If one energy source breaks down, alternatives are available – and district heating utilities can at any time choose the cheapest energy source, driving down costs. 

District heating also makes it possible to store heat, both day-to-day and from season to season. This means that district heating networks are less vulnerable to breakdowns in specific energy sectors. 

A deep-dive into district heating

Read articles and use cases on how district heating can improve grid efficiency, security and flexibility while integrating renewable energy and reducing costs.

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