District energy can take us a step closer to carbon neutrality


District energy systems produce emission-free electricity on site to lower pollution and improve cost-efficiencies.

Photo: Pixabay/Waldo93

In 2015, the United Nations created a global sustainability goal to protect ecosystems worldwide by mitigating the effects of climate change through lowering global gas greenhouse emissions.

Countries can reduce their carbon emissions by producing more renewable energy and some of them are developing power systems to expand carbon-free energy supplies.

Among these are independent and local district energy systems that can provide consumers with enough electricity to power residential and commercial buildings from a central plant.

Could this be a solution to carbon-neutral energy?

District energy systems produce emission-free electricity on site to lower distribution pollution and improve cost-efficiencies. The power source relies on Earth’s natural temperature differentiations to access warm and cool air without generating emissions. District energy systems move water or a refrigerant through subsurface pipes.

The layouts also recycle water and refrigerant indefinitely, which reduces resource exploitation. District energy systems are large-scale geothermal units that can distribute warm or cool air to commercial, medical and academic buildings.

Some regions power their downtown areas’ heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems with district energy. Residents can connect their conventional HVAC systems to geothermal power supplies and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.

The technology may also help regions meet their sustainability goals.

How can district energy reduce emissions?

District energy reduces emissions by powering HVAC systems without conventional electricity. Most global electricity supplies come from fossil fuels, which produce greenhouse gas emissions. In the United States, HVAC systems consume about 55% of the power supply.

People can reduce emissions related to heating and cooling by sourcing district energy, which is compatible with electric HVAC systems. Residents may connect their electric furnaces to district energy supplies and power evaporator coils without producing emissions.

Electric furnaces absorb heat to increase the efficiency of air conditioning. Independent geothermal units can also directly distribute warm or cool air in buildings without using conventional HVAC systems. Reducing technology reliance on fossil fuels significantly decreases carbon emissions.

Adopting renewable energy systems

Communities can adopt district energy systems using government funding since installing them requires high upfront costs. People in the US can help fund installation processes with a 26% renewable energy tax credit.

Geothermal energy systems can affordably heat multiple buildings so users can pay off their personal energy systems by selling excess power to local distribution companies. Residents of rental properties may also access emission-free electricity by purchasing supplies from regional distributors.

The town of Boise in Idaho, for instance, relies on district energy sources to heat buildings downtown. The geothermal network heats over six million square feet of developed land. Boise relies on the clean energy source to create a closed-loop system.

Iceland, too, boasts an established geothermal energy system with the clean energy source heating about 85% of local residential properties. Other countries can follow Iceland’s lead and develop public district energy systems to reduce environmental degradation. Importantly, district energy systems are the most efficient power supplies on the market with energy-efficiency rates of up to 400%.

Installing smart thermostats, meanwhile, may help optimize HVAC power supplies and maintain abundant communal energy supplies. Advanced thermostat technologies use motion-detection sensors to divide buildings into different zones. The sensors determine each zone’s occupancy levels and adjust indoor temperatures to increase efficiency.

They also access real-time weather predictions through internet connections. Smart thermostats use weather predictions to reduce energy waste when indoor temperatures match outdoor temperatures.

Users can also install light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs in buildings to minimize energy exploitation. These lights use up to 75% less energy than traditional bulbs. They conserve local power supplies and help other consumers access emission-free electricity. Optimizing district energy with efficiency-enhancement technologies can effectively conserve natural resources.

The benefits of district energy systems

Relying on district energy to power global HVAC systems could economically and environmentally benefit consumers. Renewable energy supplies are more cost-effective than fossil fuels after individuals pay off initial fees and installation costs. People can lower their utility bills by sourcing geothermal HVAC power.

Eco-conscious countries like Iceland power most of their temperature-control systems with district energy. Different countries’ abilities to access abundant geothermal power depend on their location because some areas are more compatible with district energy systems than others.

Diversifying energy sources by taking advantage of geothermal units and additional power from solar and wind systems will mean a great step forward in lowering emissions.

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