Benefits and potential impacts of district heating

Here you will find examples of benefits and potential impacts to the community from using a district heating scheme. There is also a list of the environmental benefits and potential impacts.

Community benefits

  • Depending on the business model chosen, local communities may have opportunities to own and financially benefit from the network.
  • Investment in a large scale network, located in close proximity to proposed new development, may significantly reduce the developer's cost of compliance with Building Regulations. It may even be the factor that enables development to go ahead at all.

Impacts on the community of using district heating

  • District heating is reliant on a consistent or growing customer base. Customers may find themselves tied into a heating system that they are unhappy with. A focus on customer service and competitive pricing is considered important.
  • Similarly, monopoly ownership runs contrary to the norm in the deregulated electricity market. Multiple community ownership is possible (see Community benefits above).
  • Delivery of biomass or waste to the scheme's energy centre may cause disruption and noise. This is not a problem with gas powered systems.

Environmental benefits

  • It can make use of waste heat from industrial processes. It could be said that this is ‘free heat' since it would otherwise be dissipated to the air or water.
  • It can significantly improve the energy efficiency of electricity generation by capturing heat that would otherwise be wasted through cooling towers.
  • It can reduce CO2 emissions in older buildings where other forms of energy efficiency, such as external installation, are not possible.
  • The pipe work, if installed well, will last for many decades. Whereas energy centres generally last around 15 years. This means that fuel sources can be changed from fossil fuels to renewable as the economic viability of the latter improves.

Impacts on the environment of district heating schemes

  • It may only bring CO2 reductions over conventional heat supply in a relatively small number of locations with high heat densities. In other words, this technology is much better suited to urban areas than sub-urban or rural environments.
  • Boiler or combined heat and power (CHP) engine exhaust gases must be monitored and treated to reduce the levels of pollutants produced.
  • It is not a zero-carbon technology unless the fuel used is renewable.
  • The boiler or CHP engine must be located closer to populations, therefore, it is important that exhaust gases are carefully monitored to avoid health risks. Pollutants of particular concern are nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulates (PM10 and PM2.5). Exhaust gas treatment technologies are used to reduce the level of pollutants produced and are required, particularly in Smoke Control Zones that cover many urban areas. Larger systems are more able to absorb the cost of this equipment, without compromising their financial viability.


1 May 2012

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