homenews and insights district heat in ireland for net zero

Why district heating has a key role to play on Ireland’s journey to net zero

By Pieter D'Haen
15 December 2021


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COP26 may feel like it was some time ago but the need to make progress on the decarbonisation of all sectors of our society has never been greater.

And one of the most undervalued parts of the net zero jigsaw is heat, which globally accounts for about 40% of energy-related CO2 emissions therefore making it a key priority to address.

In my role as sector lead for Heat Networks in SSE Energy Solutions I’m proud of the leadership role we play when it comes to this sector in the UK, but we need to spread the net further.

That’s why we want to showcase our expertise and ideas for an Irish audience in partnership with leading Irish utility ESB (Electricity Supply Board) at an online event today (Wed 15th Dec) entitled: ‘Realising the role of District Heat in Ireland’s road to Net Zero.’

With industry insight and knowledge sharing from the likes of Codema - Dublin's Energy Agency, Ramboll and Engineers Ireland, we hope this event will spark debate and ideas about the best way forward for district heating in Ireland.

So where is Ireland on its journey towards decarbonising heat? Well – it’s probably nearer the start than the end given Ireland has one of the lowest shares of district heating in Europe.

The Climate Action Plan from 2019 first committed Ireland to a policy framework for the development of district heating and as 2021 draws to a close we are still awaiting the final policy framework.

Whilst we await this policy, the Irish Government’s ambitions for the sector have grown yet further, with the revised Climate Action Plan 2021 increasing the target for roll-out of district heating. This increased ambition was in response to the Government’s new climate legislation, which commits Ireland to net zero by 2050 and 51% emissions reductions by 2030.

Another source of encouragement is the funding from the Irish Government to two pilot district heating projects – South County Dublin and Dublin City Council. As things currently stand, we don’t see any other funding streams available in Ireland, though this could change.

So why bother with heat networks? What could they bring to Ireland? Well quite simply I believe they are a vital ingredient for Ireland’s decarbonisation pathway.

Heat Networks are unique in their ability to distribute heat captured from a variety of sources - including data centres, water courses and energy from waste plants, in addition to some innovative projects SSE Energy Solutions is involved in using geothermal wells and electricity transformers.

For example, a potential heat networks site we want to build at Stoke-on-Trent could one day be heated by low carbon heat drawn from nearly 4kms beneath the earth's surface – which really would be exciting.

Likewise in GB we are also working with National Grid to capture waste heat from electricity transformers to provide low carbon heating for homes and businesses.

At SSE we bring innovation to this sector as well as experience from the sites and customers we serve in London and Glasgow – and a few places in between. Being a founder member of the Heat Trust means we are helping to drive the market forward in the right way; and we welcome the impending legislation coming from the UK and Scottish governments to shape this sector.

We know that the transition to zero carbon heating is going to be a complex one – especially for energy customers who may be required to make changes to the heating equipment in their homes and businesses to enable lower-carbon alternatives.

In time though, as heat networks grow across towns and cities, we expect more and more low carbon waste heat sources to be connected, further improving supply security, and keeping costs as low as possible for customers.

At the same time, heat network deployment is localising heat supply and reducing reliance on energy sourced from further afield. And, of course, we will need local supply chains to plan, design, deliver and run these new energy networks providing job and skills development opportunities.

We know this won't be an overnight solution. And there are undoubtedly challenges ahead, not least in changing our perceptions about the value of heat currently being wasted. But also, in making sure we have a framework in which owners of waste heat can engage in the process and play their part in decarbonising our heat supplies.

We want to be part of that debate and if you’d like to join in, please Click Here

‘Realising the role of District Heat in Ireland’s road to Net Zero’ takes place online on Wednesday 15 December, 2pm – 3.30pm.