District energy systems are among the most efficient ways to distribute electricity as well as heating and cooling (thermal) services, providing efficiency gains up to 80-90% relative to conventional separate generation of electricity and heat. By 2050, modern DES (District Heating and Cooling with Combined Heat and Power) could avoid over 35 GT of CO2 emissions at low cost, and deliver 58% of CO2 emission reductions required to keep the global rise in temperature to 2-3°C, while producing significant environmental and economic benefits.
DES enable the use of
- energy that is typically lost (reducing primary demand by 30-45%),
- energy sources that are not viable at the scale of the single building,
- a variety of local fuel sources, including waste streams and renewables.
DES systems are fuel and technology agnostic and also enable the greater integration and balancing of variable renewables. District energy is an opportunity for all countries, and particularly for those that have coal-based electricity production, and those that could harness important economic gains from fuel switches to locally available renewable energy sources. Harnessing economies of scale, DES lower the cost of moving buildings to higher efficiency. As a form of decentralised energy, it allows the matching of energy output with specific load demands, which defers or avoids additional investment in central generation and distribution infrastructure; and use of different locally available energy, reducing vulnerability to external events. In places where electricity infrastructure is being built, DES can increase access to modern energy services and achieve greater system reliability. Other benefits include local economic development through job creation.