Unleashing the potential for district heating in Ireland

Gemserv’s Samantha Shea outlines a significant opportunity for the heating sector.

Ireland currently represents one of the lowest shares of district heating in Europe, with only a few small-scale district heating networks amounting to less than 1% of the country’s total heat demand.

But in spite of this, the Irish Government has set an ambitious target to deliver up to 2.7 TWh of district heating by 2030, equating to around 10% of Ireland’s heating needs – and by 2050, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) believes that up to 50% of building heating demand could be met by district heating.

The Irish Government is now looking into how it can facilitate the market growth required to deliver this ramp-up. The supply chain in Ireland isn’t as well developed as other countries and therefore, there is a significant challenge in terms of scaling up. It is clear that to-date, the policy landscape has not facilitated market growth at the rate required to achieve Ireland’s decarbonisation objectives.

The main barriers to district heating in Ireland are not technical, as it is a proven technology around the globe. But, there is currently a lack of guidelines, regulations, policies, frameworks, or standards relating to district heating in the region, which presents a high risk and uncertainty for market actors.

Ireland’s Government has already taken steps to increase district heating provision by forming the District Heating Steering Group under the 2021 Climate Action Plan. Its recent 2023 Report set out a suite of recommendations as to how to achieve the ambitious plans.

These included introducing legislative changes in relation to consumer protection, licensing consenting, and technical standards. They also highlighted the need to build the skills and expertise needed at a local level, as well as considering how funding could be deployed to support the construction of networks.

The report emphasised the need for private sector collaboration and investment to really unleash the potential of district heating in Ireland. To overcome these barriers, a coordinated approach is needed across departments, and learnings from international counterparts need to be included. Gemserv is heavily involved in the delivery of the UK programme, working across the Heat Networks Investment Project (HNIP), the Green Heat Network Fund (GHNF) and the Heat Network Efficiency Scheme (HNES) to support the commercialisation and construction of heat networks, as well as improving the operational performance of existing networks.

We are also helping to develop the Heat Network Technical Assurance Scheme which will drive up standards across the industry. Additionally, we have worked with local authorities to help them understand the skills and knowledge required to build and maintain heat networks in their regions.

We are excited to hear about the progress being made in Ireland and to share how the UK has used policy, incentives, and regulation to drive heat network deployment over recent years. We know the UK still has a long way to go to hit its target to deliver 20% heat demand from heat networks by 2050, but there are learnings that can be drawn from the approach, and many policies are directly applicable to the Irish market.

District heating is beneficial to a wide range of customers, from domestic use to public buildings, educational facilities, offices and hospitals. These systems are recognised as being highly efficient by reducing the need to install individualised heating systems for multiple buildings. A range of different heating sources can be used for district heating, including heat recovery from the many data centres in Ireland. District heating can be an incredibly efficient way to provide affordable heating to homes and businesses, whilst enabling the transition from high-carbon fossil fuel heating. The carbon saving potential for district heating increases as networks expand, making them ideal for both rural and urban areas.

Ireland presents an exciting and growing market for anyone in the heat network sector internationally. There are, however, policy gaps which will need to be addressed and there is an opportunity to shape how these evolve over time. Our heat network team will be watching how the policy landscape evolves and we hope to inform the debate over the coming months.

Find out more about Gemserv’s work on Heat Networks here.

Samantha Shea will be talking about the opportunities in district heating in elemental’s webinar on 7th November. For more details and to sign up, visit our events pages.