Why universities should be embracing district heating schemes

Decarbonising our heating is a crucial step towards Net Zero - particularly for universities with large campuses to heat. Embracing heat networks is key to this.

What are the benefits of heat networks?

Heat networks, otherwise known as district heating schemes, currently supply around 2% of the UK's heat. But with an estimated 50% of buildings in the UK located in areas of suitable density for heat networks, including many university campuses with a high density of buildings and accommodation, the system has the potential to have a far greater impact. But why are district heating schemes so desirable when it comes to decarbonisation?

Heat networks supply heat from a central source to users, in this case students, via a network of underground pipes carrying hot water. They can work on a local basis, supplying a small cluster of buildings, or can cover areas as large as entire cities. This avoids the need for individual boilers or electric heaters in every building. Heat networks are sometimes described as 'central heating for cities', with the central heat source often referred to as ‘the energy centre’. There are many different technologies that can provide the input to a heat network, including:

  • Power stations
  • Energy from waste (EfW) facilities
  • Industrial processes
  • Biomass and biogas fuelled boilers
  • Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants, including gas-fired units
  • Fuel cells
  • Heat pumps
  • Geothermal sources
  • Electric boilers
  • Solar thermal arrays

Heat is brought into each building through a heat exchanger which is usually about the same size as a small gas boiler. All the same heating controls are available and to the end user the central heating and hot water system works in the same way as a domestic gas-fired central heating system, without the need for any combustion to take place inside the building. Heat networks can be various sizes and serve various combinations of building types. They can also be extended over time, as university campuses continue to grow, and new heat demands and heat sources can be added to the network.

Government funding for heat networks

The UK government is keen to progress the development of district heating systems in this country, with the Green Heat Network Fund and the Heat Networks Investment Project, amongst others, offering funding for low carbon heat networks. Several universities have already taken advantage of these funding opportunities, and accessed the carbon and financial savings that heat networks can provide. Veolia can support universities to utilise the funding available by offering the implementation and maintenance of district heating schemes, to provide your institution with a reliable, efficient method of heating your buildings.


Heat networks on a larger scale

Whilst the popularity of district heating schemes continues to grow in the UK, in the education sector and beyond, Veolia is helping to demonstrate their benefits globally. In 2021, we were awarded a 30-year concession contract for the operation, maintenance and management of the district heating system of the city of Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. The heat network serves around 1.2 million inhabitants - half of the city's population. As a first step for Veolia in the country, this project shows the potential of district heating schemes on a much larger scale than is currently seen in the UK. For large energy-intensive sites such as university campuses, district heating schemes could be a crucial step on the journey to decarbonisation.



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