Thursday, February 22, 2024

Turning up the temperature on district heating networks

Zisis Nikoloudis, Segment Manager – Commercial, at Uponor

District heating networks have been steadily growing in popularity over recent years, thanks in part to their ability to significantly improve a building’s energy efficiency levels1. Despite this, still only around 3% of the UK’s heat demand is supplied by such networks – a figure which the Committee on Climate Change has said needs to rise to at least 18% if the UK is to meet its carbon targets.

To encourage the industry to make significant inroads in ensuring this sustainable way of heating is utilised to its full potential, the government has been putting in place incentives and policies including the Heat Network Investment Project and the Renewable Heat Incentive, which aim to encourage the use of more environmentally friendly heating solutions, such as district heating networks and renewable energy sources.

Even with these incentives and policies in place, revolutionising how those in the industry, not to mention homeowners, think about heating is not going to be an easy task, and we’re still a long way off where we need to be.

Helping to reach our goal

Making sure we’re using the most up-to-date, sustainable systems available is an important part of getting to where we need to be, and district heating networks are a very viable solution which deserve more attention.

In practice, district heating networks typically consist of a centralised energy centre that uses an underground network of pipes to supply heated water to a property. They are particularly useful for large, multi-occupancy buildings as well as suburban developments, as only one heat source is required to supply all the properties.

District heating networks can be coupled with renewable technologies and solar thermal power which are highly efficient. In addition, on average they last longer than conventional boilers, delivering lifecycle cost-savings.

Piping hot

In order to maximise a district heating system’s efficiency further, using high performance, insulated pipes to carry water to and from the energy source will reduce heat losses. In fact, innovations in this area mean that now only the very smallest amount of heat is lost into the surrounding earth while transporting the water.

The growth of district heating networks in urban areas, and in complex buildings where space is at a premium, has helped to drive the development of smaller, durable and more flexible pre-insulated pipes. These flexible pipes don’t need large trenches, can follow the contours of the land and can be installed to fit around corners and other obstacles. Additionally, by installing flexible pipes the number of connections required is reduced, minimising the possibility of leaks occurring and also further improving the efficiency of the system.

Another great way to enhance a district heating network’s energy efficiency is to couple it with sustainable in-home heating solutions such as radiant heating systems, radiant panels and underfloor heating. These systems operate at lower temperatures compared to traditional heating methods such as radiators2,3. Incorporating smart energy management technology, such as smart heating controls4, will also boost efficiency levels by ensuring that heat is only provided where and when it is required.

In practice

Recently Uponor supplied energy efficient piping solutions to renewable heating expert, Finn Geotherm, for use in the largest district heating scheme in East Anglia for housing association, Flagship Homes. Located in Felixstowe, the renewable heating project has transformed the way residents heat their homes and receive hot water, and dramatically cut heating bills and carbon emissions for more than 100 houses, flats and bungalows.

By installing six large scale district heating systems and Uponor piping, residents are now enjoying substantially cheaper heating bills – paying around 70% less than before. Energy use has also been cut by 70%, making a significant impact on carbon emissions and providing a more affordable and efficient living environment.

With such clear advantages, there is no doubt that we will continue to see the rise of district heating networks across the country, as these systems continue to prove themselves to be a sustainable method of heating homes and reducing carbon emissions, now and in the future.


  1. Super-insulate or use renewable technology? Life cycle cost, energy and global warming potential analysis of nearly zero energy buildings (NZEB) in a temperate oceanic climate. Energy and Buildings 139 (2017) 590–607
  • A comparison of heating terminal units: Fan-coil versus radiant floor, and the combination of both. Energy and Buildings 138 (2017) 621–629
  • Low-energy guide. Underfloor heating and cooling in low-energy buildings. Uponor
  • Categories and functionality of smart home technology for energy Management. Building and Environment 123 (2017) 543-554

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