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District heating in Europe has major potential for the future

District heating in Europe has major potential for the future. Heat market shares for this heating technology could threefold in many large European cities, while still maintaining the current level of profitability. It is also predicted that district heating systems in densely populated cities and city districts will continue to be competitive, even if there is a future drop in heat demands. These are the findings of a new, unique survey conducted by a group of researchers at Halmstad University.

“The purpose of the project was to evaluate the continued competitiveness of district heating technology even if heat demands were to be reduced in the future,” says Sven Werner, Professor of Energy Technology at Halmstad University, who led the research project.

By reformulating a classic calculation formula for investment costs in district heating networks, the researchers were able to create a unique calculation model, making it possible to estimate investment cost levels for district heating systems even in places that do not currently have district heating. Previous estimations have only been possible to perform on the basis of existing networks.

Current marginal distribution capital cost levels and the corresponding district heat market shares in the four study countries.
The researchers then analysed the current standing of district heating technology on the heat market in 83 cities in four European countries: Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. They also evaluated the technology’s future competitiveness in relation to local heating alternatives and reduced heat demands.

In 2006 district heating accounted for an average of 21 per cent of the heat market in the cities investigated.

“Our calculations did, however, show that market shares corresponding to 60 per cent would be a cost-efficient average expansion level. This means that it would be possible to threefold the current heat market shares for district heating in the cities that we studied, with a profitability level calculated on the basis of the current situation,” says Urban Persson, Ph D student in Energy Technology, who was a member of the group of researchers.

The study also shows that in densely populated cities there are no major threats to the position of district heating because of a warmer climate. Among other things, new technology, for example current developments in the fourth generation of district heating technology, can contribute towards this.

The district heating study is part of a three-year Swedish project dealing with various energy technologies: “Pathways - Swedish Systems Solutions”, which is being undertaken in partnership with Chalmers University of Technology and financed by the Swedish Energy Agency. This is in turn a parallel project to the major international “Pathways to Sustainable European Energy Systems”.


Footnote. The study is called “Heat distribution and the future competitiveness of district heating”, Persson & Werner, 2011. Applied Energy 88 (2011) pages 568–576.

Great potential. A unique new study from Halmstad University shows that the heat market shares for district heating can threefold in many densely populated European cities - while maintaining profitability.
Updated 2010-11-16