Two thirds of Irish households would benefit from low-cost district heating, study finds

IrDEA reports call for €1 billion State investment to kick-start the sector before 2030

District energy is the most economically viable low-carbon heating option for 64 per cent of the Irish population, according to research published by the Irish District Energy Association (IrDEA).

The case for significant State investment to kick-start the sector has been set out in two reports from the not-for-profit organisation. An investment of around €1 billion in coming years could unlock the potential of the sector to deliver affordable emissions-free heat to consumers across Ireland, it finds.

The sector has been tasked with delivering enough heat for 200,000 homes and 2,500 public buildings by 2030 – equating to 10 per cent of national building heat demand.

District energy networks, widely deployed in Europe, distribute water, which has been heated at a local energy centre, to buildings through a network of insulated underground pipes eliminating the need for fossil fuels and individual boilers. Benefits include improved energy security; efficiency savings, affordability, better air quality and employment opportunities, IrDEA says.


The reports compare roll-out of the technology in six European countries, using this as the basis for recommendations on policies needed to deliver district energy to Irish consumers quickly and at scale. Recommendations include consumer protection measures and rules on planning and licensing.

Around 70 per cent of heat demand in countries like Denmark and Sweden is met with district energy, said IrDEA chief executive Yvonne Murphy

Less than 1 per cent of building heat demand is currently provided from this source, most commonly through communal schemes, mostly located in Dublin, but it “is the most economical way of meeting the heat demand of 67 per cent of buildings across Ireland”.

Launching the reports, Minister for Environment, Climate and Energy Eamon Ryan said the Government was committed to accelerating building heat decarbonisation.

“District energy is a proven technology, with millions of customers across Europe and beyond, and it can play a key role in improving energy efficiency and reducing emissions in Ireland. That is why we have committed to clear climate action plan targets to deliver up to 2.7 terawatt hours (TWh) of district energy capacity by 2030,” he added.

Around 70 per cent of heat demand in countries like Denmark and Sweden is met with district energy, said IrDEA chief executive Yvonne Murphy. “Europe-wide, 30 million households and 70 million people rely on district energy. It is a well-proven technology that is available right now for deployment in Ireland,” she added.

Two decades ago, widespread generation of wind-powered electricity seemed far-fetched to many, said IrDEA founder and chairman David Connolly. “Now, after a concerted effort, it’s a natural part of our energy supply chain. The same can happen with district heating. The system can use any source of energy including renewable electricity or surplus heat from industry or cooling processes, which is a real game changer as we reduce our reliance on imported oil and gas.”

The key barrier was lack of a mechanism to draw down Government funding to help finance roll-out of projects, Mr Connolly said. “We’re optimistic that if the financing barrier is addressed quickly, we could start to see projects materialise in the next 12 to 24 months.”

IrDEA is a trade organisation supporting growth of the district heating and cooling sector in Ireland with members across the public, private and academic sectors.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times