Most people are concerned about the impact of rising energy prices, but there are ways that councils and governments can work together to help their citizens. One of the most interesting approaches involves switching from regular power stations to communal-heating schemes. Although not a quick fix, the long-term potential of these schemes is hugely exciting, both in terms of their environmental benefits and waste reduction. The potential to save money for energy users is also promising.
What are communal or district heating schemes?
These schemes are a type of infrastructure that facilitates heat generation in a central location. The energy can be distributed to both industrial and residential properties in the local and surrounding areas. These types of community heat-generation schemes are highly efficient, cleaner than traditional power plants and cost-effective because of their excellent efficiency and flexibility.
These plants are based on the Combined Heat & Power (CHP) model. These produce both power and heat in a single process, meaning that heat which would in other circumstances be wasted through electricity production is used instead. This leads to energy savings of up to 30% compared to traditional processes. In fact, some of the most advanced CHP plant models can operate with as much as 95% efficiency! Compare this with the standard efficiency of 38% for many existing plants.
Renewables can also be used in these communal heating systems, such as solar energy, waste energy from industrial processes (like steam) and biomass. Renewables can either be used on their own as a standalone energy source or to complement fossil fuels as they are phased out. This means that community heating schemes are flexible enough to use today’s energy sources and then later sources in the future.
How do they work?
The technology behind community heat schemes begins at the point of the heat-producing pumps at the plant. These supply hot water to consumers via a series of pipes, which are heated in local heat exchanges. The water supply can be used directly to heat rooms, or be exchanged to an internal circulation unit. The water will then be cold because the heat energy has been transferred to room heating or domestic hot water and it returns to the district energy plant. The water can circulate endlessly in the network of closed pipes. Some systems use steam instead of water, which can provide the hotter temperatures often required for industrial processing.
The simultaneous production of electricity and heat means that the process is very efficient. If renewable energy sources are used alongside the otherwise wasted heat sources generated by industry, there can be significant environmental gains. Energy usage can therefore benefit society and the environment together. The systems are also very convenient for customers, who are hardly aware of the smaller and local processing plants within their communities.
At present, there are 1.5 million Danish homes using district collective heating, representing around 60% of the population. They are also world leaders in the technology and have seen economic benefit from developing these systems for their citizens and businesses. The future is there for the UK to embrace if the government, industry and consumers educate themselves on the options available. This is particularly important if UK voters want to move away from nuclear power plants and consider viable alternatives instead. This kind if district and collective heating offers a genuine alternative that is cheaper, quicker and cleaner to operate; an alternative that crucially does not produce nuclear waste.
Written on behalf of ENER-G who specialise in a range of alternative energy solutions and systems for improved efficiency and control
- The Energy Opportunity in Wasted Heat (blogs.scientificamerican.com)
- Solar panels could be the solution to fuel poverty (evoenergy.co.uk)
- Alternative Energy Sources – An answer for cleaner world (innovationsinpiping.com)
- Renewable energy hit by an irrelevant debate (crikey.com.au)