District Heating & Cooling Networks

Advantages of District Heating

Heat is generally a by-product of generating electricity: this is always true if generation is based on combustion of carbon fuels (like coal, oil, gas or biomass). The principal advantage of locating electric generation stations close to buildings is that the heat from generation can be circulated in district heating pipes to heat local buildings.

Although all combustion of carbon compounds releases CO2, a larger proportion of the inherent energy in the fuel is converted into electricity or useful heat in a "Combined Heat and Power" plant ("CHP").

Heat Networks Investment Project

The UK Government has been keen to encourage the use of CHP and district energy for many years and lamented the fact that only 2% of UK buildings benefited from district heating in 2001. Despite persistent encouragement the number of buildings in the UK heated by district heating is still only 2%. The Government has now allocated £320m for grants and loans to encourage the use of district heating in its Heat Networks Investment Project. The key advantages of heat networks are that they can benefit from economies of scale and take advantages of local waste heat opportunities.

Disadvantages of District Heating based on CHP

However, there are strong reasons why CHP-based district heating has not taken off in the UK and there will continue to be formidable barriers:

Luckily there is an alternative form of district heating which neatly resolves all the limitations of CHP-based district heat networks.

Heat Sharing – Community Heating – Heat Networks

There is an alternative means of sharing heat using a lower temperature distribution circuit. This Heat Sharing Network™, which is linked to a communal ground array can be accessed by each building on the network: each building uses its own heat pump to raise the temperature to the temperature it requires for its own heating and hot water requirements (or rejects heat to the network if it needs cooling). Heat sharing networks are also termed "Cold Water Heat Networks".

A heat sharing circuit is much cheaper to install than a high temperature circuit because it does not require insulation to prevent heat losses to the ground. In fact, heat exchange with the ground that the pipes pass through can be beneficial: the ground adjacent to the pipes extends the contact with the ground and the pipes can draw heat from the ground.

Buildings with excess heat can reject heat to the Heat Sharing Network. This heat exchange with cold water is much more efficient than rejecting heat to hot air. It also raises the temperature of the Heat Sharing Network for the benefit of those whose heat pumps need to extract heat.

Heat Sharing based on a Heat Sharing Network can ...

District Energy

Sustainable Energy

A Heat Sharing Network is very well suited to providing heating and cooling to groups of buildings, particularly buildings under common ownership, including on hospital or university campuses. The cost of providing an efficient installation can be shared across a number of buildings, and the benefits increase if the district heating system includes other buildings such as schools or offices whose heating and cooling requirements may follow a different daily pattern (and different weekly pattern) from the heating demand for other buildings on the network. Where the district covers offices, or data centres, the heat recovered from cooling these buildings can be transferred to homes requiring heating (or other buildings with a heating need such as a community swimming pool).

Where the cooling demand is separated in time from the heating demand, surplus heat can be stored in ThermalBanks from the time it is available to the time it is needed. This efficient use of heat is at the heart of Interseasonal Heat Transfer and enables ICAX to provide cheaper heating and cheaper cooling than conventional methods, as well as proving heating and cooling with a very low carbon footprint.

Sharing heat between buildings

Many buildings have an overall cooling load over the year: they have a requirement to reject heat. This often applies to modern office buildings in south east England with extensive glazing and high solar gains. These buildings may be adjacent to older buildings with an overall annual heating load. ICAX has developed systems to allow for the transfer of heat between buildings: this form of heat transfer can save fuel and carbon emissions for both buildings.

Both buildings can benefit from a "heat sharing dividend" when they enjoy "joined-up heating and cooling".

Other buildings with a need to lose excess heat include underground train tunnels, data centres and supermarkets.

A comparison of the advantages of Heat Sharing Networks over traditional gas powered District Heating is shown in the Heat Sharing Table.

District Energy Management System

ICAX has developed a District Energy Management System ("EMS") to control the transfer of thermal energy from the times and places it is most cheaply available to the times and places where it is most needed. This involves control of Thermal Energy Storage to maximise the benefits, minimise costs and minimise carbon emissions.

Even in a group of similar houses there will be variations in the heating requirements between houses: some houses will be unoccupied during the working day, others with small children, or pensioners, may have higher heating loads during the day. ICAX can meet these variations in demand successfully – and meter the use of heating in different buildings.

The combined benefits make Interseasonal Heat Transfer an attractive option for offices, schools and universities, hospitals, community centres, urban and suburban housing developments, industrial developments and private houses aiming for low energy use based on solar power.