CHP plant, Sweden (image credit Daily News)
I have just returned from a study visit to Kolobrzeg in Poland, where yet another meeting of the Innoheat project participants took place. Innoheat is an initiative of the South Baltic Programme and was established to gather actors from Poland, Lithuania, Germany, Sweden and Kaliningrad that are involved in district heating solutions.
District heating is a centralized system for generation and distribution of heat that we have in our radiators and hot water. Depending on its qualities, such approach allows for increased energy efficiency and may represent one of the cheapest ways to cut on carbon dioxide emissions. Apart from fossils, district heating can be based on waste incineration and renewables sources (biomass, geothermal and solar). What can also complement its efficiency qualities is recycling of heat surplus from industrial processes, which otherwise would be just lost, and combining heat and power generation into one process (cogeneration), which again allows for recovering so-called wasted heat occurring during the electricity production.
However, it is not only the technology that determines the efficiency of heating systems. Maintenance staff and tenants also have great influence on the amount of energy used. During the conference, increasing attention was paid to this factor and the importance of comprehensive training of these people. What YOU personally can do is be considerate about the amount of hot water you use and lower/turn off heat on your radiator when it is not needed (I am sure you also have some warm clothes to wear at home 😉 ).
Another questions is whether heating companies are interested in training their clients to save energy. Imagine an apparel company striving to reduce the consumption of clothes. Contradiction? However, such companies DO exist and manage to find their competitive advantage through creating unique values for their customers. The same applies to heating companies. One of the possible benefits for them is that conscious customers can save companies money by reducing the peaks, which may cost a lot, especially with highly inefficient systems.
The problem is more complex when one considers the future scenarios with (ideally) highly efficient houses with low need for heating. Then, new business models should be developed to combine the competitiveness of producers and benefits for the planet.