HOT|COOL NO.1/2021 - "Fuel, Flexibility & Green Transition"

Decarbonization of the Austrian District Heating Systems

By: Ralf-Roman Schmidt, Edith Haslinger, Roman Geyer,

Benedikt Leitner, Dragisa Pantelic

One of the main climate goals in Austria is to reach carbon neutrality by 2040 1 . The renewable share in district heating (DH) is currently at 48.4 %, of which the vast majority is biomass 2 . This large share of biomass is mainly due to more than 2,400 small biomass-based rural DH networks 3 . Apart from these, there are some larger DH networks in all major urban areas, i.e. Vienna, Graz, Linz, Salzburg and Klagenfurt, mainly based on combined heat and power plants (CHP) using natural gas. The decarbonization roadmap of the Austrian DHC association In 2020, the Austrian Association of Gas- and District Heating Supply Companies published a scenario for the decarbonization of the Austrian DH sector 4 . Here, an increase in DH demand by around 30 % to almost 26 TWh is predicted, accounting for approx. 30 % of total heat consumption. On the supply side, besides the continuous use of waste heat and waste incineration, the largest increase is due to geothermal energy. However, the overall largest heat supplier in 2050 will be renewable fuels, reaching a share of 59 %.

Figure 1: Decarbonization scenario for Austrian DHC networks (adapted and translated from 5 )

Sustainability of biomass and the competition for renewable fuels Although there are rich biomass resources in Austria, their utilization in general and more specific for heating purposes is increasingly questioned. A recent statement 500 scientists addressed heads of the governments: “Trees are more valuable alive than dead both for climate and for biodiversity. To meet future net zero emission goals, your governments should work to preserve and restore forests and not to burn them” 6 . Furthermore, studies on the decarbonization of the Austrian industry sector show a large demand for renewable fuels 7 . Following this trend, cities like Helsinki are aiming for a decarbonization of their heat supply while using as little biomass as possible 8 .

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