District Heating

District heating (also known as heat networks or teleheating) is a system for distributing heat generated in a centralised location through a system of insulated pipes for residential and commercial heating requirements such as space heating and water heating.

District heating in Reykjavik started on a small scale in 1930. In 1933, about 3% of Reykjavik’s population were connected to Reykjavik District Heating. At that time, coal was mainly used for heating, and dark clouds of smoke were commonly seen over Reykjavik. Moreover, pipelines were laid to nearby municipalities, which are now supplied with geothermal water by the district heating in Reykjavik. The use of geothermal water in Reykjavik for space heating instead of fossil fuels reduces air pollution. Today, almost all houses in the area are connected to the district heating system.

panoramic view of Reykjavik from Hallgrímskirkja

Geothermal energy is a renewable source of energy which can improve the quality of life of people in a sustainable way. One of the best examples of this is the city of Reykjavík which used to be covered with plumes of smoke due to the burning of fossil fuels. Today, the inhabitants of Reykjavík enjoy an environmentally friendly and competitive heating system utilising energy provided by Earth itself. 

The district heating in Reykjavik serves 57% of the population of Iceland with geothermal water, and was the world’s largest municipal geothermal heating service. The installed power is now over 830 MW with energy provided by four low temperature geothermal fields in Reykir, Reykjahlið, Laugarnes and Elliðaár and by cogeneration at the Nesjavellir and Hellisheiði high temperature geothermal area, located about 30 km east of the city.

Verkis has designed the major part of the geothermal district heating system owned and operated by Reykjavík Energy, including most of the pumping stations, storage tanks, the 27 km long Nesjavellir pipeline and other major transmission pipelines such as the Reykir pipelines, and the distribution network in Reykjavík, Kópavogur and Garðabær. In recent years, the oldest part of the network in Reykjavík (over 40 years old) has been refurbished.

Benefits of using district heating

Steady temperature

District heating provides a steady indoor temperature at the desired level which is not dependent on the outdoor temperature. Room temperature can be automatically controlled using underfloor heating or radiators. 

Low price of energy

Based on average district heating prices. Iceland citizen pay 1.24 US cents per kWh of thermal energy. Russian citizen pay almost x2 as much for there heating or 2.16 US cents per kWh (Euroheat & Power, 2014).

Improves energy efficiency, reduces CO2, reduces running costs

It makes a lot of sense from an efficiency point of view to have one large centralised heat source supplying all of the buildings and properties in a scheme, rather than each having a separate small boiler.

Improved air quality in cities

District heating for example based on geothermal energy has a extremely low CO2 emission ration. No emission are released “onsite” in the municipality. Basically no smog or fog from burning fossil fuels, just clear skies.

Ideal for off grid areas

District heating is a very popular option in geographical areas located off the mains gas grid and therefore making a large renewable heat source a great option in terms of running costs compared to heating oil or LPG etc.

No individual boilers to worry about

A district heating network has a central heat source supplying heating water, which enable the heat created to be distributed and metered – completely replacing the requirement for individual boilers in each property

Supports national energy interests

The concept of district heating strongly supports

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the use of a wide range of low carbon and renewable heat sources.

To improve security of energy supply by diversifying the energy sources for heating and reducing a counties dependence on fossil fuel imports.

To offer a supply of heat that is good value and that contributes to reducing fuel poverty.

Frequently asked questions

Icelandic companies are willing to showcase and assist municipality’s in performing feasibility studies, design, assist with construction and operations of geothermal district systems or hybrid system solutions.

The best solution, were available, is district heating & cooling of cities using geothermal baseload backbone with co-generation from other renewables and gas (if water temperature is not sufficient).

Moving Forward (main stages)

  • Pre-feasibility study – desktop study
  • Exploration and feasibility study
  • Drilling of wells and conformation of resource
  • District heating construction
  • Commissioning of the whole installation
  • Icelandic companies are willing to assist in all stages of development. It is however beneficial to have local partners involve from the beginning.

Lifetime and payback

  • District heating systems require a large upfront investment. The pay back period can be assumed to be 40 years.
  • Operation and lifetime is in excess of 80 years, depending on the nature of the resource.
  • Parts of Reykjavik district heating system are over 100 years old and are still fully operational .
  • With regards to financing, the levels of investment vary from ca. 1 to 1.5 Mio €/MWth installed.

Cities using geothermal baseload backbone with co-generation from other renewables