Switch2 Blog

What is community and district heating?

Posted by Kirsty Lambert on 21-Sep-2017 08:49:43

It’s important to point out, that even the decentralised energy sector sometimes struggle to understand what is community and district heating and the differences between them. Therefore we thought it would be useful to explain what they are and to demonstrate the differences, clearing up some of the common preconceptions.

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But first - what is a heat network?

“Heat network” is a new (ish) term to many, and an umbrella term in all its glory. “Heat Network” is defined in the Heat Network Regulations as the general term that describes both Community and District Heating networks. It explains the heat infrastructure in its entirety; including the energy centre, plant room/substations, the pipework in between the two, the dwelling internals up to the heating system radiators.  

Heat networks are a way of centralising heat generation, taking advantage of larger scale generation and renewable energy sources such as excess heat from industrial processes. Did you know: We waste enough excess heat to heat every home in Britain, if only we could move the heat from where it is wasted to where it is needed?

What is community heating?

Community heating is a centralised heating system that supplies heat and hot water to one building block with more than one heat customer according to the Heat Network Regulations. However at Switch2, we would widen this definition slightly to include small heat networks where a central plant room serves a site or development that may have a couple or more buildings.

Who generally runs the community heating systems? Normally that would be the responsibility of the building owner and more commonly than not, the systems would be run at cost benefit for the residents. The building owners may be a social housing provider, landlord or freehold company.

In the UK most community heating schemes heat is generated in a plant room using gas boilers, CHP engines or biomass boilers. In some cases they may be connected to and  buy heat from a district heating network.

Example - Sheffield City Council (SCC) operate a number of community heating schemes which provides energy to 5,800 residential dwellings across the city. 500 of these are on community heating schemes where SCC purchase heat (at a heat exchanger and bulk meter in the community heating plant room) supplied by the Sheffield District Heating Network, and the other 5,300 dwellings are on community heating schemes with their own heat generation where SCC purchase gas and biomass.

So what is district heating?

True, district heating is about distributing heat from large scale generation and waste heat sources around large areas, usually within cities, connecting community heating schemes together. District Heating is about large pipes laid in roads, a different scale of engineering to community heating, where pipes are generally in buildings.

Why is it important to note these differences?

It is common in the industry for these definitions to be misconstrued and misunderstood.  

The industry is currently exposed to a number of issues, including those surrounding ownership, customer service, reliability, cost of heat and competition. A clear understanding of the differences may help the debate around answering questions such as:

  • Who should own and run community heating systems?
  • Who should own and run district heating systems?
  • When does community heating become district heating?

Should owners of community heating systems be encouraged to connect up to district heating supplies when they are built out? Or should they have a choice, generate their own heat or connect up to a district heating system depending on cost and quality of service?

Food for thought.

We would love to hear your opinions on this matter! Use the below comment box to let us know your thoughts.

What are the benefits to heat networks?

Well, we have touched on the benefits of heat networks a lot in our blogs (and for a better understanding, watch out for next week's’ blog); heat networks are integral solutions to effectively achieve zero carbon by 2050. By utilising heat networks in our cities, it means that we can reduce CO2 emissions, cut costs to the housing management and consumer and also address social issues such as fuel poverty and affordable warmth.

Key takeaways

  • A heat network is the general term covering both District Heating networks and Community heating networks
  • Community heating is a centralised heating system that supplies heat and hot water to one building block with more than one heat customer
  • Whereas district heating system is the distribution of heat from a large scale generation, usually found in cities

How to Operate a Successful Community Heating Scheme: a Best Practice Guide

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Kirsty Lambert

Business Development Director at Switch2

A skilled director and leader with both operational and commercial experience, Kirsty has over 10 years’ experience in the community and district heating industry.