District heating (DH) is an important sector in the energy industry of the Czech Republic, covering the heat needs of 1.7 million households and a significant share of industrial heat demand.
The Czech Republic is one of the countries with a traditionally high share of DH systems. In the European context, due to the penetration of 41% of households, the district heating system can be described as highly developed, although there is still considerable space for improvement in terms of distribution network and technology efficiency.
The heating networks reach a length of about 7’500 kilometers. Due to this and the fact that almost 15% of heat networks are still steam pipes, there is a great potential for heat savings in its distribution. Statistics of losses in district heating systems indicates an increase in specific losses (total losses related to the total heat supply) from 9% in 2004 to 10.8% in 2013. The growing trend of specific heat losses in recent years was caused mainly by reduced heat consumption while the absolute value of the losses stayed the same. Generally, the most significant potential for reducing losses in distribution is a potential transition from steam pipe network to hot water.
District heating has to face many challenges today. The most significant is the slightly decreasing heat consumption over the long term. This is due to lower demand for heat from both the industry (the importance of heavy industry is decreasing, companies are investing in energy savings) and households (thermal insulation of houses, disconnection from DH systems, installation of measuring and control devices). Warm weather, higher prices and unfavorable economic situation was also reflected in the consumption decrease, mainly in the residential sector. In terms of the thermal energy supply to individual sectors, supply to households (40%) and the service sector (25%) dominate, the supplies to industry account for 35%.
Growing regulatory requirements - especially for environmental protection (emission limits, involvement in emission allowance trading) - have a significant impact on the heating sector. In addition, there is a need for investment in heating infrastructure or in recent years a decreasing price of electricity.
The district heating sector faces long-term economic discrimination compared to local heat production. This market distortion has now escalated due to the reform of the emission market, which was endorsed by the European Council in February this year. The price of greenhouse gas emission allowances increased almost four times in one year.
Heating plant operators invested more than 770 million EUR in the greening of their plants between 2013 and 2017 and significantly reduced emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and dust in the air. Currently the biggest polluters are local heating and household boilers.
The outlook of the heat demand reflects on one side expected economic growth in the sectors of services and industry, growth of the number of households in the Czech Republic and on the other hand the continuing trend of energy savings which should offset the upward pressure on the heat demand.
The primary energy consumption for district heating has been steadily decreasing in the Czech Republic over the past decade. This was caused by energy savings implemented by customers as well as due to continuing improvements of heat production and distribution efficiency. The fuel mix was also changing. Liquid fuels were already almost eliminated from use, while the share of renewable fuels has been steadily increasing. The share of coal and lignite in the energy mix for DH has been diminishing while the share of natural gas remained stable. District heating relied mostly on domestic fuels as only liquid fuels and natural gas were imported and contributed thus to limited reliance on energy imports and energy security in the Czech Republic.
With regard to the fuel mix of heat produced by the CHP (75%), the dominant fuel is brown coal, which makes up more than half of the fuel consumption. For heat produced in a separate mode of production the dominant fuel is natural gas.
Brown coal is the most important fuel used for heat production in the district heating sector. Brown coal is used mainly in thermal power plants and in heating plants that produce heat based on the principle of combined heat and power production (CHP). For heating plants that produce most of the heat supplied through district heating (55%), the share of brown coal in the energy mix is even 48%. Thus, it can be confirmed that brown coal is crucial issue for district heating.
KeepWarm is an EU-funded project whose objective is to accelerate cost-effective investments in the modernisation of District Heating Systems (DHS). It brings together eleven project partners from a variety of relevant sectors (energy agencies, national DHS associations, agricultural chambers, research institutes, consultancies on energy efficiency and NGOs) across Central and Eastern Europe.
The aim of the initiative, launched in April 2018, is to modernise DHS around the whole region and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by improving system operations and promoting a switch to less-polluting sources, like renewables. The project partners strive to ensure that best practices for environmental-friendlier heating and cooling will be taken up across Europe, replicating KeepWarm’s approach in other countries and regions, even beyond the end of the project in September 2020.
Country project partner
The Association for District Heating of the Czech Republic is an interest group of legal entities and entrepreneurs in the field of heat supply. It is promoting the development of district heating systems and combined heat and power generation as an effective and environment-friendly way of primary fuel energy utilisation. Within KeepWarm TSCR supports the development of pilot DHS projects in the Czech Republic and is responsible for the Sustainable Adoption Roadmap.
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