District heating networks are set to receive a boost under draft EU legislation requiring all municipalities above 50,000 inhabitants to map out heating and cooling decarbonisation roadmaps.
District heating networks – hot water pipes running below the ground – supply millions of homes in cities across Europe, representing about 10% of the EU’s heat market.
As Europe seeks to wean itself off coal and gas, switching those networks to renewables is becoming an urgent priority.
“If you look at the trend in investments across Europe, all cities with ambitious energy and climate agendas intend to develop district heating,” said Birger Lauersen, president of Euroheat & Power, an association representing the district heating sector in Brussels.
“And these projects, to a great extent, are based on renewables and waste heat, usually coming from industries or the tertiary sector like data centres,” he told EURACTIV in an interview.
District heating in Europe today runs mostly on fossil fuels, with natural gas and coal currently making up around 30% and 26% of the fuel mix, respectively, according to Euroheat & Power. And switching to clean energy sources is a slow process: by June, the association is expected to put together a roadmap to decarbonise the sector by 2050.