11 October 2021


With the climate crisis now real, district heating systems (DHS), in combination with new technologies and energy renewables, are helping remove carbon from the heating equation.Heat production, which accounts for half of French energy consumption, still releases too much carbon. The French government intends to quintuple the amount of heating and cooling from renewables between 2012 and 2030. Projects and actions are multiplying, hot on the heels of the success in Denmark!The next edition of BePositive will be a new occasion for boosting this use of energy.

A European project to stimulate heat production


The RES-DHC project (Renewable Energy Sources for District Heating and Cooling) , launched in October, 2020 with funding from the European Horizon 2020 programme, is a consortium of 15 partners. Objective: to increase upon the current share of renewables used in urban heating and cooling in EU countries by supporting the sector’s stakeholders and the local authorities. Two of the partners—AuRA-EE (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Energy Environment) and the CEA (alternative & atomic energy commission)—are jointly leading this project in France.

With an installed base of 230 district heating systems, the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region is today’s French leader in the number of such systems. 65% of these are already decarbonized, but it mustn’t stop there. Local councils need to know of all the renewable energy sources available in their district and region, sources like direct solar or the under-exploited “unavoidable heat”— heat given off by industrial processes.Our first mission is to make these energy sources known and create links between stakeholders

explains Nicolas Picou, AuRA-EE’s heating renewables mission leader.

Decisional aid tools

The project partners’ second mission is to get local authorities using decisional aid tools. One of these, enrSim, exists already and was created by the CEA. It’s a simplified calculation tool for renewable multi-fuel production plants feeding into district heating systems. The other, being developed around the TerriSTORY tool, will give a visual indication of energy sources across the whole territory, along with heating requirements and production opportunities, all on a solar irradiation map. It will include maps of the direct solar, geothermal, and unavoidable heat potentials as well as a map of existing DHS installations. 

This tool sets out to introduce more consistency and more closeness between local councils and other stakeholders.We are also promoting a master plan of district heating systems, a good but little-known prospection tool that can simulate heating requirements with respect to urban and spatial planning

adds Nicolas.

Guidance on district cooling systems

AuRA-EE also assists developers, operators, and local councils with a forward vision of cooling systems. Nicolas Picou:  

Global warming is causing the expansion of “heat islands” in built-up areas. Town councils must at all costs be made aware of this and start anticipating. The idea is to develop systems along the lines of smart electrical power grids. It’s an innovation that couples geothermal with solar and deserves to be much better known. We will be able to couple district heating systems with cooling systems in order to pool supply and demand.But that can only happen by looking far ahead when developing town areas.That will be one of tomorrow’s developments.

The project’s final mission is to stimulate the sharing and spreading of methodologies: 

We all must share our experiences, not only with other French regions but farther afield still. Just look at the Danes, who were the true pioneers of district heating systems and will be at BePositive to show and transfer their experience and know-how.This must be put to good advantage.  We’re all takers when it comes to great ideas from our fellow Europeans.

ends Nicolas.

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes key facts and figures 

  • 50%: that’s heat production’s share of energy consumption 
  • 65%: and that’s the share of renewables in district heating systems (compared with 53% nationwide)
  • 3,900GWh per year of energy produced, enough to heat 390,000 homes 
  • 725,000 tonnes/year of carbon dioxide avoided

Discover the Danish model!

To understand what makes Denmark a benchmark country, you need to go back to the 1970s. The oil crisis was biting hard and it pushed the Danes into abandoning fossil fuels. Shunning nuclear power, they staked their future on renewables and district heating systems. Today, 64% of Danes get their warmth from district heating systems.

We were quick to understand that district heating systems—a thing in Denmark for over 100 years—were a serious heating solution. Whatever resources are available can be used, in any mix—biomass, waste, direct solar. They are indeed future-proof systems. Once they exist, you can mix and match energy sources as you please. If one type of energy sets its prices too high, another takes its place,

explains Karen-Luise Johansen Geslin, Senior Commercial Advisor with the Danish Embassy in Paris.

Efficiency at all costs! 

Today, there’s a dense network of district heating systems in Denmark. Everything is connected to the system: apartment blocks, houses, industries, service sector premises—everything. Karen-Luise goes on to tell how the system is sound, clean, cost-effective, and high performing.

Let’s be clear: these systems belong to their users. The municipality’s role is to manage them with a break-even business model. If the town council is efficient, users will pay less for their heat. Councils even compete with each other. They like to keep things transparent and publish their prices. Danes can then choose where they live according to how much the district heating system will cost them 

This efficiency race is under way at all levels in Denmark: choice of energy source, smart appliances in the home to monitor consumption, development of combined heat and power, and to avoid wasting the gains, pipe lagging to minimize heat transport losses—the production site can be as far as 40 or even 50 kilometres from the consumption point.

Temperatures are an area we are currently working on. As recently as ten years ago, we operated at temperatures of 70–80°C. These days, it’s more like 40. Only the likes of hospitals need really high temperatures, so we detach certain systems to fulfil such needs. The lower the temperature, the easier other energy sources are to integrate, for example solar direct, heat pumps, hydrogen.

Denmark, a whole country of ambassadors for district heating systems!

Last but not least, all public and private stakeholders in Denmark have a strong desire to engage in exchanges, to share, to participate in testing and research projects. There are many bonds between industry and local authorities. Denmark will be represented at BePositive in December by a DBDH delegation (District Energy for Green Cities), which unites systems, consultants, engineers, and manufacturers across the board. They will all be there as ambassadors of district heating systems, sharing their expertise. 

Our country is so small and CO2 emissions so low that our actions are a drop in the ocean compared with our ambitions in favour of the climate. That’s why we are so keen to share our experiences, hoping they will inspire others to follow.

concludes Karen-Luise


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