A network of opportunities

District heating schemes have gained popularity across Europe, but the UK is still trailing in the adoption of this energy-efficient heating method. Louise Howlett of RA Brown explains the benefits.


hile district heating is widely adopted in Northern Europe, it remains underutilised in the UK, providing less than two per cent of the energy. However, the benefits of district heat

networks, such as the fact they can use a variety of heat sources and power off-grid developments or multiple properties from one centralised location, have made them an increasingly popular option for the residential sector, particularly for large-scale refurbishments or new build developments.

A growing sector

In the Government’s fifth carbon budget, it was projected that by 2050 heat networks would be serving 18 per cent of the total heat demand. To address the challenges which local authorities identified as barriers to

heat network deployment in the UK, the Heat Network Delivery Unit was formed in 2003. Since then, it has supported over 100 local authorities in England and Wales, and there are now over 200 projects at development stage. A pilot scheme open to local authorities and other public sector bodies has been launched, with the first payments of the £39m funding to be made by April. However, investment in these schemes is a big challenge for the Government as typically returns are slow, and while district heating

systems work well with an owner/operator model, the Government will want to regulate charges as it is committed to lowering heating bills for consumers.

Technical benefits

One of the great benefits of district heating is that a wide range of heat sources can be used to run district heat networks – from gas, burning of waste or bio fuels. Renewable technology such as ground source heat pumps, which extract heat from the ground to reduce emissions, can also be utilised with these systems. District heating is also scalable – a number of units can be linked

together and housed in a large plant room. From that centralised location, the heat is then distributed to individual apartments, for example, via a Heat Interface Unit (HIU). This can be installed inside or outside each home (very much like a gas meter) and that way heat usage can be metered for individual billing. Like with other heating systems, householders are able regulate the amount of heat that they use as the warm water is transferred into the radiators or through the underfloor heating system in each property. Pipes feeding the HIU flow and return from the central point. If run by a | HMM March 2017 | 37

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