How district energy solutions are changing cities

An increasing number of cities across the world are getting on board and reaping the benefits of district energy. According to the report District Energy in Cities published by UN Environment in partnership with ICLEI, UN-Habitat and the Copenhagen Centre on Energy Efficiency, cities around the world are adopting district energy systems.

So why is district energy so attractive?

Modern district energy is one of the cheapest and most efficient solutions to reduce emissions and primary energy demand in cities. District energy systems use a central source to produce and transmit steam, hot water and cool water from a central plant to heat and cool many buildings throughout a city or neighborhood. This system enables cities to reduce reliance on energy imports and fossil fuels and use a variety of local energy sources that are not economically or technically viable for individual buildings. It also enables energy that is typically lost in the form of waste heat to be captured and utilized.

How are cities using it?

The City of Vancouver started by developing a publicly-owned district heating utility that captured waste heat from sewage for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Observing the economic viability of that system, private actors started developing new district heating systems elsewhere in the city. District energy is an important part of its ambitious strategy to derive 100 percent of the energy used from renewable sources before 2050. To ensure a wide use of this system, Vancouver has developed bylaws to ensure mandatory connections to the new systems as well as incentives for the private sector.

We can find another example is the City of Paris, which developed the first – and now the largest – district cooling network in Europe. The network innovatively uses existing spaces such as roofs and basements the existing sewage system to navigate the network through the old city. The network provides cooling, eliminating the need for air conditioners throughout central Paris and even supplies cooling for the Louvre.

How to find out more

The District Energy in Cities Initiative, a multi-stakeholder platform led by UN Environment, promotes the transfer of policy, finance and technical know-how. ICLEI acts as the local government partner and co-coordinator of the Capacity Building Task Force of the initiative. Together with other partners, they have launched a capacity building package on district energy through the Solutions Gateway, an online platform for local and regional governments, gathering low emissions development solutions for cities.

Visit the Solutions Gateway to access solutions packages and case studies on district energy.

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