Retrofitting district heating systems: contributing to long-term renovation strategies

7 January 2020

Retrofitting district heating systems: contributing to long-term renovation strategies

Will district heating still be relevant in a Europe made up of all low- and zero-energy buildings? How can the retrofitting of district heating systems contribute to achieving zero-emission building stock in the EU by 2050? The renovation of buildings and retrofitting of district heating systems should go hand in hand, says ICLEI Europe’s Carsten Rothballer.

The buildings sector accounts for 36 percent of carbon emissions in the European Union (EU) and is thus a key sector that must be addressed to achieve European climate and energy goals.

The EU Energy Efficiency Directive requires Member States to submit long-term strategies for mobilising investment in the renovation of building stock within their National Energy Efficiency Plans. Recent changes to the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) require the adoption of long-term renovation strategies as part of the National Energy and Climate Plans. The amended EPBD shows a clearer path towards achieving low- and zero-emission building stock in the EU by 2050, underpinned by national roadmaps and public and private investment.

When it comes to district heating system renovation, the EU strategy for a climate-neutral Europe by 2050 outlines that energy-efficiency measures, both on the supply and the demand side, should play a central role in reaching the 2050 goal. Energy consumption should be reduced by as much as half compared to 2005 levels. Therefore, retrofitting existing distribution networks is considered to be crucial to reducing energy losses. Moreover, the EU strategy contends that a majority of homes should be using district heating systems that run on renewable energy sources. When replacing ageing infrastructure, smart networks and sector integration are recommended to achieve the decarbonisation objective.

“When planning improvements of district heating systems, it is essential to take into account the future energy demand of buildings. Therefore, the renovation of buildings and retrofitting of district heating systems should go hand in hand,” says Carsten Rothballer, Coordinator for Sustainable Resources, Climate and Resilience at ICLEI Europe. “Despite the buildings requiring less energy, the feasibility of district heating systems should not be put into question. On the contrary, reduced peak demand and lower supply temperature, paired with sustainable energy sources, can make district heating a very viable, cost-effective option!” he adds.

“The KeepWarm project, funded by the EU Horizon 2020 programme, through exchange of knowledge and policy integration activities, is on the right track to raise the ambition of current district heating renovation in Central and Eastern Europe,” says Stefanie Schädlich, coordinator of KeepWarm at Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

KeepWarm is aligned with the EU 2050 climate strategy goals. However, each country, region or city has to aim towards achieving higher energy standards and implementing them when making decisions for investment in more advanced heating systems, in order to achieve 2030 climate and energy targets. Schädlich goes on to explain, “KeepWarm will assess how its target countries address district heating retrofitting challenges in their local, regional and national strategies and encourage their proper integration into forthcoming policy documents, as well as the development of national or regional action plans for district heating renovation.”

The KeepWarm project recently launched a Learning Centre, which is pooling resources and solutions on district heating in Europe and beyond in one place and in several languages. It is open and free for all stakeholders involved in the planning, provision or use of district heating, who would like to deepen their knowledge and find hands-on information to help support their decision-making processes on thermal systems.

For more information and to explore the Learning Centre, click here.

District heating pipes (Flickr) by "Chris Alban Hansen"