A number of Swedish municipalities are arguably leading the world in environmentally-friendly heating. Heat and power production in such cities is combined with district heating systems to provide affordable, ecologically-sound heat for citizens.
District heating systems tend to use heat from renewable energy sources, which is then piped through the city for homes and other buildings to tap into rather than using their own separate boilers. Biofuels such as wood and peat are commonly used as well as combustible household waste. Other sources of heat may also be used, such as geothermal heat from deep underground or heat reclaimed from industrial processes. These types of heating system have played a major role in the relatively high level of independence from fossil fuels that Nordic countries have managed to achieve.
Altogether, around 60% of Sweden’s heating comes from district heating systems. Overall, about 85% of all public buildings and multiple-dwelling homes connected to these networks and such networks exist in all of Sweden’s towns. The birth of the Swedish district heating networks really took place in the 1950s, when many Swedish municipalities were looking into ways to reduce air pollution. They were also keen to find more efficient ways to produce electricity, and found that combined production of electricity and heat represented a significant improvement in efficiency. Helped by a culture that is generally supportive of community infrastructure, district heating took off in the following decades.
Many people around the world are starting to wonder whether the international community could do well to learn from Sweden’s example. While other countries struggle with energy usage, pollution, and declining stocks of finite natural resources, Sweden has almost removed fossil fuels from its heating sector. District heating systems are also relatively easy to operate. The infrastructure can be costly and challenging to construct, but it doesn’t come with the same challenges of internationalism that might hinder other types of infrastructure such as electricity.
Even those countries that do already use district heating systems may have things to learn from Sweden. In Eastern Europe, this kind of heating solution is more common than on the Western side of the continent. However, it is still largely based on coal, so while it offers advantages over self-contained boilers for each separate building it still produces large amounts of carbon and draws on finite resources. In Sweden, by contrast, the use of fossil fuels is virtually non-existent in district heating, yet the system continues to serve countless citizens well.
Swedish district heating solutions have made use of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, but sourcing enough renewable heat through these methods alone would be challenging and perhaps impractical. As a result, a big emphasis has been placed on biofuels as a replacement for traditional fossil-fuels over the past two or three decades. The way district heating has been combined with electricity production is also something that many other district heating systems around the world lack, yet offers a significant boost in overall efficiency.
This article was contributes by Prepayment Energy Solutions who specialise in prepayment energy and heat meters for multi-tenant buildings.