HOW TO GET STARTED?
Since the invasion of Ukraine by Putin’s Government, European countries find themselves stuck in a painful situation. While eager to stop importing natural gas from Russia, they are at the same time extensively reliant on Russian natural gas for their energy supply and economy. So, then what? How should European cities get started on the green tran- sition and reduce their natural gas dependency?
By Maëlle Caussarieu, Energy Planner, PhD, Municipality of Copenhagen
Such a critical situation is not unprecedented; crises have prompted changes in energy supply systems in the past. For example, the Fukushima nuclear disaster provoked the closing of nuclear plants in Germany, and the oil crisis of 1973 prompt- ed the further development of district heating (DH) in Den- mark. Shocks and crises can be the spark that drives energy transitions. They can provoke new understandings and uses of already known technology, and district heating may be one of them. DH has significant potential to mitigate climate change, lower European reliance on Russian natural gas, supply low- cost heating, and improve air quality. In this article, I will present some findings from the DH devel- opment in Denmark and argue why these historical and con- temporary examples have relevance today. I will here present two arguments also developed in my Ph.D. thesis. First, from the Danish Government’s response to the oil crisis, I show how creating a common regulatory regime was central to facilitat- ing the large-scale deployment of DH. Second, based on the case of Albertslund municipality, I show that local parameters are essential in energy transition processes. Establishing and developing district heating in Denmark District heating: a response to a crisis Before the 1970s in Denmark, there were no dedicated ener- gy planning procedures or regulative authorities. Municipali- ty-owned DH companies were standard in the larger cities – and often, the DH supply was based on surplus heat from waste incineration plants. But when the 1973 oil crisis hit Denmark, the oil price increased by nearly 400%, seriously striking the country’s economy. With this oil embargo, Denmark realized that concerted action was needed to lower the dependency on imported oil, and an all- new Danish Energy Policy era started. Fuel diversification and energy savings became the main priorities at the national and
municipal levels, and DH became the backbone of the Govern- ment’s strategy. Politicians and regulators realized the poten- tial to exploit waste heat resources from electricity generation and waste incineration plants to increase energy efficiency. The Government thus recategorized DH from an available sur- plus heat source to necessary energy infrastructure. Establishing such large-scale infrastructures was nonetheless not done overnight. In the following section, I expose some of the elements that made this deployment feasible in Denmark and which may provide aspects of the answer as to “how to get started.” The importance of national regulation for local developments When the Danish Government realized the need to develop DH to reduce oil dependency, they established the Danish En- ergy Agency (DEA). This new regulative authority was tasked to create procedures, plans, and regulations to support and guide energy developments. The Danish Energy Agency soon signed the Heat Supply Act (1979), the first law regarding DH in Denmark. The Act holds the municipalities responsible for developing local DH infra- structures and most created municipally owned or coopera- tive companies to be in charge of these developments. This means that the new task of developing DH was in the hands of the local public practitioners. Yet, the DEA’s common planning practices guided this local and public task. Two regulations from the Heat Supply Act must be highlighted: the hvile-i-sig- selv principle (literally “rest upon itself”) and the socio-econom- ic calculations. The “ hvile-i-sig-selv ” principle stipulates that no profits can be made from the production and trade of heat. It stipulates which costs can be covered in the heating price and therefore secure the customers against possible abuses. The end-users were and are thereby ensured to obtain the lower heat prices
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