District level heating could help achieve EU 2020 energy efficiency goals

Recycling of excess heat, via ‘district heating’, has the potential to improve energy efficiency in Europe. This study mapped excess heat and demands for heat in EU27 Member States to identify regions suitable for the large-scale implementation of district heating. The authors identified 63 ‘heat synergy regions’, generally large urban zones, which generated almost half of all excess heat generated in the EU27.

A recent briefing suggests there is a clear role for district heating. This study mapped heat resources in EU27 Member States, using data from 2010. The research, which forms part of Heat Roadmap Europe – a research project investigating energy efficiency measures in the EU’s heating and cooling sectors – assessed the annual excess heat produced by the energy and industry sectors in Europe using CO2 emissions data.

The development of ‘modern’ district energy (DE) systems is one of the best options, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in a new publication: District energy in cities – unlocking the potential of energy efficiency and renewable energy. Launched at the International District Energy Association’s (IDEA’s) annual conference last month, the report calls for the accelerated deployment of DE systems around the world. The full report is available here.

The UK Government’s own Heat Strategy states that producing heat is the biggest user of energy in the UK and in most cases we burn gas in individual boilers to produce this heat. This is a wasteful method of producing heat and a large emitter of CO2, with heat being responsible for 1/3 of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. Household heat demand has risen somewhat over the past 40 years from 400 TWh/y to 450 TWh/y, despite a marked improvement in the energy efficiency of homes and a slight reduction in the severity of winters. The average internal temperature of homes has risen by 6°C since the 1970s, and this combined with growth in housing – the number of households has risen by around 40% since the 1970s – has offset energy efficiency gains in terms of total energy used to heat homes Some studies suggest these temperature increases are due to factors including the move to central heating, rather than householders actively turning up their thermostats.

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Carbon. It’s Not Staying or Going Underground and It Needs To

Not really aligned with sustainable cities per se, but occasionally you read a blog that just clarifies complexity in a wonderfully concise way. Today I read a blog written by Howard J. Herzog, a Senior Research Engineer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In his blog on The Conversation‘s website “Pumping CO2 underground can help fight climate change. Why is it stuck in second gear?” he explains not only the opportunity afforded by carbon capture and storage but also disentangles the complexity of financial and political interventions and drivers. But, quite simply, he does make the case for capturing ‘free’ CO2 and storing it underground to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere causing climate change.

On the same day, by coincidence, George Monbiot writes in The Guardian The extraction of fossil fuels is a hard fact. The rules governments have developed to prevent their use are weak, inconsistent and negotiable. In other words, when coal, oil and gas are produced, they will be used. Continued production will overwhelm attempts to restrict consumption. Even if efforts to restrict consumption temporarily succeed, they are likely to be self-defeating. A reduction in demand when supply is unconstrained lowers the price, favouring carbon-intensive industry”. Keeping those fossil fuels that were formed over millions of years underground exactly there is the only way we’re going to stave off irreversible climate change. 

Both conclude that the true cost of ‘freeing’ those carbons is not being met. If there was a true polluter pays principle it would make the case for keeping the carbon in the ground in the first place and it would certainly help invest in technologies to capture carbon, store it and re-use it. We need to find ways of keeping what is in the ground there for longer and ways of putting what has already been liberated back there, safely out of the atmosphere whilst we figure out a low carbon solution to our needs.