Total installed district heat capacity (for heat only boiler houses) has decreased in the last years, by 30% when comparing 2011 and 2017. Data on installed heat capacity for CHP are not available, but given that the number of CHP plants has increased from 83 plants in 2011 to 204 in 2017, a decrease of installed heat capacity in heat only boiler houses are connected to increase of CHP numbers. This can be explained as a result of many projects that aimed to improve the efficiency of heating systems, by switching from old inefficient boilers to new high-efficiency CHP boilers.
But still, the total number of DH systems has decreased by 7% when comparing 2011 and 2017. Which is due to the reduction of final heat energy consumption, caused by an increase in energy efficiency, warmer winters and decreasing population. Even though there has been investment support for modernization and energy efficiency in DH, huge parts of DH is older than 25 years, with low efficiency.
Most of the DH consumers are located in Riga, and other 8 biggest Latvian cities, where population density is higher. There is also a lot of small DH systems in smaller towns and municipalities, but also heat losses are usually higher within those systems, causing higher energy costs. In many cases, this also leads to the liquidation of small DH systems, as many users choose to disconnect from the central grid, and transfer to an individual heating system. And lack of regulation that obliges to connect to centralized heat grid, also causes a reduction in the number of consumers for DH, as DH is not the cheapest energy source available.
The DH sector does not have a dedicated strategy or plan, where specific targets are set. But DH sector is an important part of energy efficiency and energy planning documents. For example, investment grants were available under European Union Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund for the 2014-2020 planning period under specific target 4.3.1. “Promote energy efficiency and the use of local RES in district heating”. Regulations state that until 2023, 70 km of heat pipes must be renovated, thermal energy losses in reconstructed heat networks must be reduced by 49 000 MWh/year, modernisation and growth of renewable energy generation capacity in district heating must rise by 70 MW, estimated annual greenhouse gas reduction must be 30454 tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
Improving the energy efficiency of heat networks and promoting the use of renewable energy resources in district heating is an important step in achieving Latvia’s national climate and energy objectives. For these reasons, a substantial part of EU funding was and is invested in precisely the following measures, leading to a series of tenders for measures to improve the efficiency of district heating systems, which started in 2009.
Cogeneration plants and boiler houses still massively use natural gas, meaning there is a lot of potential for RES in district heating and that means DH has an essential role in delivering EU objectives. But at the same time, improved energy efficiency and reduced final energy consumption cause a reduction in energy demand from DH, which is a long-term challenge for our DH industry.