What is District Heating – The Ultimate Guide to District Heating

March 4, 2019


Districting heating is a centralised heating system that uses insulated pipes to distribute heat to various locations within a network.

As dedicated specialists in district heating and a trusted partner to our clients and main contractors, our team here at Therma-Mech regularly provide high-quality above and below ground solutions on projects where our expertise and level of workmanship makes the difference. For information about how we can help, simply get in touch with us today.

This blog highlights what district heating is and everything you need to know about this innovative type of heating.

What is District Heating?

District heating, sometimes referred to as heat networks, is a type of heating system. It works by having a centralised location whereby heat is generated. This heat is then subsequently distributed to different locations/buildings within a network via insulated pipes in the ground.

The concept is simple. Instead of lots of individual homes or locations all having individual heating, everyone can benefit by using one larger system that provides heat for all the different locations.

In essence, districting heating is about economies of scale. Everyone can save energy and money by acquiring heat from a larger, central system.

By being connected to the network, heat is shared and used efficiently and only as required. Networks can vary in size and complexity, but the principles remain the same.

This can be utilised for residential buildings, commercial units and offices as well as public buildings such as schools, hospitals or libraries.

The concept of distributing centralised heat has been used for hundreds of years in some ways or another. However, it’s only recently that using this method has been used to support energy efficiency, helping reduce carbon usage and costs.

In the UK, there are over 17,000 district heating systems set up, illustrating the recent popularity in such schemes.

Components of District Heating

A Districting heating system is relatively simple. It requires 4 core elements:

  1. Energy Centre

An energy centre is where the heat is generated for district heating. Depending on the requirements and complexity of the network, the energy centre will require different specifications.

Here at Therma-Mech, we design and install energy centres for district heating, creating heat at a centralised location and distributing it to the desired locations.

These energy centres help achieve exceptional environmental ratings.

  1. Insulated Pipes

Insulated pipes are really important for district heating. The last thing you want is for heat to escape to the surrounding ground while being distributed around the network.

The pipe network needs to be designed in a way that promotes efficiency and reduces the risk of issues and problems arising.

Pipes tend to be either steel or plastic.

  1. Heat Exchanger

The heat exchanger is where the heat leaves the network pipes and enters individual homes/buildings. Heat is then transferred to the necessary areas within each location/building (e.g. radiators, taps, etc.).

  1. Heat Meter

For domestic use, each property would have a heat meter. This ensures energy usage can be tracked and monitored for each property to ensure they are billed appropriately.

For residential schemes, ensuring people are only paying for what they use is important. For private networks whereby there is one owner of multiple buildings, there may not be a need for billing/tracking energy use for each building.

Benefits of District Heating

District heating offers an array of benefits, including:

  • Energy Efficiency – By leveraging a central energy centre, buildings can use energy more efficiently, thus reducing wasted energy. This helps reduce individual carbon emissions and associated financial costs. The carbon emission is lower for centralised energy centres than for accumulated individual boilers.
  • Leverage Larger Scale Heat Sources – The UK is a net importer of natural gas. This means we are using more than we are producing. Having new initiatives that reduce our need for natural gas would only be seen as a benefit (both environmentally as well as economically/politically). By using an energy centre, other heat sources can be used/considered. Wood chip, thermal, biomass, solar, wind, etc. could all contribute to the heat produced. Using these types of fuel is much harder to implement on a small scale per household but achievable on larger scale projects. This would decrease the reliance on natural gas and allow the UK to diversify energy consumption.
  • Renewable Sources – As mentioned, the use of a larger scale energy centre would mean it’s much easier to incorporate new heat sources, particularly renewable sources. Renewable energy sources are available but, in many instances, don’t get utilised due to the large upfront cost.
  • Micro Controls/Ongoing Maintenance – Without the need for individual boilers/heaters in each home/location, there is less that needs maintaining and less that could go wrong. Over time, this helps reduce ongoing maintenance costs and time. Having micro controls for a centralised energy centre also means this can be managed in the most cost/energy efficient way.

The potential drawbacks of district heating lie in the need for insulated underground pipes. These pipes must be properly insulated and designed effectively to ensure heat isn’t lost during this distribution from the central location to individual destinations.

As long as the system is designed and installed correctly, this potential loss of heat should never occur. But this does highlight the need and importance for district heating to be carried out by professionals and accredited teams who understand the various elements of the system involved. Incorrect installation or poor system design could lead to inefficiencies with this type of heating.

Learn More with Therma-Mech

Here at Therma-Mech, we specialise in district heating projects. Our skilled and accomplished team deliver M&E projects across the UK, with experience in a wide range of complex projects that span over many different industries.

If you’d like to learn more about district heating and how we can help, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Whether you’re looking to upgrade your current heating requirements or looking to expand, our team can walk you through the whole process and ensure you feel happy with district heating and a plan moving forward.

Contact us today.