Skip to content


District heating

District energy

Global renewable energy and energy security focus in the heating sector

Research helps unlock energy savings in buildings and district heating.

Climate change, competitiveness, energy security and dependency on imports of, for example, natural gas increase the attention on buildings and heating in Europe and globally.

The UNFCCC COP21 Paris Agreement, energy security and major health effects arising from the burning of fossil fuels or bioenergy has meant that many countries are turning their focus to district heating and energy efficiency in buildings. Traditionally, renewable energy in the electricity sector
or energy efficiency at the building level has attracted most attention. However, heating and cooling in buildings actually account for 40-50 per cent of the final energy consumption in Europe and globally. Thus, cities and countries around the world are now investigating how to improve building standards and utilize district heating to address these challenges. Cities are expected to house two thirds of the global population in 2050, which will increase population density in urban areas. The solutions of tomorrow require joint local and national efforts at policy level.

Understanding the roles of the individual technologies is crucial: What is the role of savings, flexible demand or storage at the building level? To what extent do we need on site renewable energy supply? Do we need district heating in the future? What is the role of bioenergy and heat pumps? How
can we use low-value heat? What policies and planning methods can facilitate change? These questions and more are at the heart of research being conducted at the Strategic Research Centre for 4th Generation District Heating Technologies and Systems (4DH).

The research has served as inspiration for e.g. European Commission initiatives on heating and cooling as well as globally in the UNEP-led Global District Energy in Cities Initiative (DES Initiative). The research reveals that savings in buildings and district heating are essential in cost-effective renewable energy systems. A drastic change of direction in the European and global heating sector is needed in the near future if a cost-effective transition is to be achieved. Currently the heat wasted in Europe can supply the heat demand of almost all buildings. Energy sectors need to be integrated (Smart Energy System) to utilize these potentials. Heat Roadmap Europe is a series of studies initiated by 4DH in collaboration with key industrial and university partners.

They combine energy system analyses with geographical information systems (GIS). They provide strategies and methods that can be replicated globally together with a pan European Thermal Atlas (Peta4). The studies suggest that 30-50 per cent heat savings and 50 per cent district heating are feasible by 2050 in Europe. In rural areas, high levels of refurbishment are also needed in combination with individual
heating technologies such as heat pumps.

District Energy front page

Download our publication on district energy

This article is part of our publication ‘District Energy’

Download now


  • Connolly, David; Mathiesen, Brian Vad; Østergaard, Poul Alberg; Møller, Bernd; Nielsen, Steffen; Lund, Henrik; Persson, Urban; Werner, Sven; Grözinger, Jan; Boermans, Thomas; Bosquet, Michelle; Trier, Daniel (2013). Heat Roadmap Europe 2: Second Pre-Study for the EU27.  Department of Development and Planning, Aalborg University.
  • Mathiesen, Brian Vad; Drysdale, David William; Lund, Henrik; Paardekooper, Susana; Ridjan, Iva; Connolly, David; Thellufsen, Jakob Zinck; Jensen, Jens Stissing (2016). Future Green Buildings: A Key to Cost-Effective Sustainable Energy Systems. Department of Development and Planning, Aalborg University.
  • Publications available at

You should consider reading

District energy
District heating




5 Minutes to Everything

2 August 2016
The plans for changing the old port area in Nordhavnen into an attractive neighbourhood with no less than 40,000 residents is on the drawing board and will be completed 30-50 years from now.