In Vilnius, Lithuania, many of the city’s downtown buildings rely on winter heating from a centralized plant. The heat comes in the form of hot water that is distributed to radiators that would heat individual rooms within the building.
Turns out this district heating has been around for more than 100 years in places as diverse as New York City (where ConEd steam serves 3 million customers) and Finland (where district heating accounted for almost 50% of the heating market in 2011).
Of course many of these district heating systems rely on fossil fuels to heat the water or steam that flows through their pipes but there is no reason renewables cannot be used instead.
There are also other innovative ways of heating the water or steam; for example, in Finland industries whose manufacturing processes produce heat (i.e. pulp and paper mills) can sell this heat to the district heating system. Data centers that power the internet also produce large amounts of heat and this too can be used for district heating.
District heating does not need to be simply a repurposed relic of the past; Project Drawdown suggests it should be considered whenever new construction or expansion of dense residential/business areas are being proposed. Central business districts, university campuses, technology parks and high density residential neighborhoods are all good candidates for district heating.
It’s possible that you live in a city that already has a district heating system in place.
As Project Drawdown states in “some parts of the world (such as the US and Europe), the existing drinking water and sewage infrastructure has reached the end of its lifetime. If replacing those networks can be coordinated with installing new district heating piping networks, the cost of the systems could be significantly reduced”. Sounds like a natural accompaniment to any upcoming infrastructure projects around providing safe drinking water to households.
Why not get in touch with your local government as well as development companies to ask whether they are considering district heating for new housing, apartment and commercial projects. Share what you’ve learned with them and how it can benefit both their bottom line and the planet.