We all want our homes to stay warm in the winter and comfortable also in the summer. If we want to curb climate change, however, we have to think about how we are heating and cooling our homes and other buildings. Climate change mitigation requires stronger link between the different energy sectors, such as buildings, transport and industry, to help them reduce carbon emissions. For instance, capturing excess heat generated by industry and data centers offers great opportunities for saving energy and cutting emissions at the same time.
Challenges of space heating in Europe
In Europe, natural gas is the primary energy source for space heating in cities. It typically relies on a collective boiler room that disperses the heat to apartments. The plus side of natural gas is that it is cheap and easy to store. However, like other fossil fuels, it is not very eco-friendly. In addition, these building-specific systems are not usually scaled for extremely low temperatures. Consequently, each apartment is supplemented with direct electric heating. This puts an added load on the electricity system.
A centralised heating system solves the problem of fluctuations in electricity consumption. Many European countries have used district heating systems for decades, but at the European level, they are overwhelmingly fired by coal or natural gas. Because district heating is not dependent on any single heat source, it would make sense to connect district heating networks to more climate-friendly heat sources.
Buildings owned by consumers, companies and communities can also become heat producers in a clean district heating network. In theory, any building that produces waste heat with clean energy could become a seller of district heat. Data centers, for instance, could cut their energy costs by selling their excess heat to the local district heating network.