How will district heating technology fuel sustainable energy network transformation?
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A DH system comprises an infrastructure which uses thermal energy to provide heat to buildings through centralized power facilities. Thermal energy is most often in the form of steam or hot water. This energy is then circulated by means of an underground insulated pipe network.
The circulated energy is then routed to building heating systems, thereby eliminating the need for individual boilers in buildings. Since heat is supplied using sustainable methods and resources, this system significantly reduces the impact of GHG emissions, thus boosting global district heating market growth.
The tale of Heerlen – how groundwater from flooded mines transformed into one of Europe’s most innovative DH networks
In the late 1960s, coal mines in Heerlen, South Limburg were closed as a result of flooding. By 2003, Heerlen municipality realized that this groundwater was being heated naturally through geothermal energy and decided to investigate. Exploratory wells were drilled in the mines, whereupon it became clear that this heated water could be used as a sustainable energy source to heat & cool buildings.
With this principle came the initiation of Heerlen’s heating initiative – the Mine Water Project, catering to a nearly 50,000 m2 floor space of buildings. The project involved five wells interconnected through a main pipeline which facilitated water supply and drainage.
This network is considered to be one of the most innovative urban pipeline networks in Europe, supplying both heating & cooling to users. Residual heat from cooling applications is circulated back to the pipeline and vice versa. This energy exchange is carried out in underground facilities equipped with pumps and heat exchangers. This network has led to a 65% reduction in CO2 emissions from the connected buildings and in 2018, supplied over 200,000 m2 building space with hot water, heating and cooling services.
What makes this endeavor unique is that it is not an innovation, but a discovery. All the equipment including pipes, heat pumps, and storage basements have been in existence for over 5 decades and have been seamlessly linked together in an innovative fashion to facilitate district heating. This discovery is a testament to Mijnwater B. V’s dedication towards advancing green energy and sustainability, through prudent use of available resources.
An insight into the residential applications of district heating
A major chunk of energy consumption from household applications is attributed to heating purposes, contributing heavily to GHG emissions. Global temperatures are expected to rise nearly 1.5°C over the preindustrial level by 2050. While seemingly unimportant, this increase can have quite a significant impact on global climatic conditions.
Space heating and hot water supply account for over 70% of the total energy consumption in residential building, leading to increased CO2 emissions.
District heating presents a sustainable and reliable way to combat this; by using a centralized distribution network using pipelines carrying steam or hot water. Most district heating systems are currently powered by fossil fuels; however, certain Nordic countries like Sweden have made good use of centralized district heating networks to decarbonize their heat supply. District heating in Sweden caters to more than one third of the overall energy demand from residential applications, with only 10% heat produced from fossil fuels.
Turkey has also taken significant steps towards district heating, with a power plant in Soma converted for waste heat usage. The Turkish municipality has built a network to transfer this energy to buildings. Over 4,000 residences are currently connected to the system with more expected in the near future. It is also estimated that the system will cut down carbon emissions by nearly 20%.
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