Ever heard of communal and district heating? It’s when heat is delivered from a central source
through insulated pipes to local homes and other buildings.
The Scottish government is introducing regulation and a licensing system aimed at accelerating the
uptake of communal heating networks. It is seen as energy efficient, particularly as these networks
often use waste energy from renewable sources.
The Scottish Government is set to introduce plans for regulation and a licensing system for district
and communal heating in a bid to encourage their use across the country.
Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse said: “The benefits of heat networks are not only environmental,
they can save space, remove combustion risk within buildings, and have been shown to save
householders and businesses up to 36 per cent in fuel costs, with consequent benefits for tackling
fuel poverty and reducing costs faced by businesses and public bodies.”
Communal heating generates heat at a central source, with either hot water or steam circulated to
homes and other nearby buildings using insulated pipes.
District heating systems come in many different sizes. The largest cover entire cities such
as Stockholm in Sweden or Flensburg in Germany, using a network of large pipes.
The first heat pump was installed in 1977 in Stockholm to deliver district heating sourced from the
excess heat generated by IBM servers.
Here in the UK it took after the Second World War to heat the large residential estates that replaced
areas devastated by the horrors of the Blitz. In 2013 there were 1,765 district heating schemes in the
UK, with 920 based in London alone. Around 210,000 homes and 1,700 businesses are supplied by
heat networks in the UK.
The country with the highest penetration of district heating is Iceland, with 95% of all housing
(mostly in the capital of Reykjavík) enjoying district heating services. The networks are mainly fed by
Iceland’s abundant geothermal energy.
Usually district heating is more energy efficient – and therefore environmentally-friendly – due to
the simultaneous production of heat and electricity in combined heat and power generation plants.
They also often use surplus heat from industries, which means district heating systems do not use
additional fuel because they recover heat which would otherwise be wasted.
However, district heating requires a long-term financial investment. District heating networks, heat-
only boiler stations, and cogeneration plants require high initial capital expenditure.
Individual heating systems have the advantage that they can be completely shut down intermittently
according to local heating demand. This is not the case with a district heating system.