FOCUS EMERGING DH MARKETS
By Donna Gartland, Director, Irish District Energy Association (IrDEA)
Ireland relies heavily on energy imports; around 67 % of all primary energy supply is imported, which is set to increase back up to the 90 % levels seen in 2006 as indigenous natural gas supplies decrease to 2022. Ireland is at the very end of the pipeline at the edge of Europe, with all imported natural gas coming through the UK. With Brexit looming, this is now an even bigger security of supply issue. Most buildings in Ireland’s cities and towns are connected to the natural gas grid and use natural gas for heating. Natural gas is a cheap source of heat, currently at approximately 6.5c/kWh for domestic and 4.8c/kWh for commercial customers (incl. all taxes), which makes it difficult for renewable fuels and low-carbon emerging technologies to compete. As well as low costs of alternative heat sources, there are many other barriers to implementing DH schemes in Ireland, including a lack of political buy-in and long-term policy strategy, supports for other low-carbon heat technologies and not for DH technologies, no local energy planning or national heat planning, and a lack of a secure customer base. At a national level, DH has never been considered as an option for heat supply in Ireland, and consequently it has never been factored into national energy models, related regulations and policy schemes. This has led to many current systems, such as building Energy Performance Certificates, failing to take proper account of the benefits of DH and the use of waste heat. All of these aspects combined leaves DH a risky market for investment and is why it has failed to be delivered through the private market to date.
Ireland has no history of large-scale district heating and most people in Ireland would not know what district heating is, but all this is about to change. The district heating sector in Ireland is gaining momentum, due to pressures from lobby groups to act on climate change and Ireland’s slow progress to meet EU targets. Both national and local level public sector stakeholders are now supporting the roll-out of pilot district heating schemes.
THE CURRENT SITUATION FOR DISTRICT HEATING IN IRELAND
While district heating and cooling systems are common in cities and towns across Europe, Ireland’s heating sector did not follow the same historical path. District heating (DH) currently contributes to less than 1 % of Ireland’s heat demand, levels which are similar only to much warmer European countries such Greece, Malta and Cyprus. As any Irish person will know, Ireland unfortunately does not enjoy the same warm weather as these Mediterranean countries, and on average 75 % of Irish household energy consumption is used for heating. Studies have shown that the average Dublin household requires the same heat annually as the average household in Copenhagen. While Ireland has a sufficient heat demand, it has a more distributed population than many other countries, and not many high-rise residential buildings. This is one of the reasons why historically DH has not been favoured over other individual building-based heating options. Individual oil and gas boilers are the most common technologies currently used for heating.
Plans for the new District Energy Centre in the South Dublin County Council Scheme, which will recycle waste heat from a large data centre to feed nearby public and private sector customers
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