District heating in the Czech Republic

CHP plants are sophisticated, high-technology businesses employing hundreds of experts and thousands of workers. They are regulated by stringent standards and criteria defined by the European and national environmental legislation. CHP plants steadily invest in technologies, control software and human resources. Billions are invested into production as well as into systems for the greening of supplies, regular servicing and step-by-step upgrading. Most major DHN are considered high-efficient DHN with low primary fossil fuel factor under the EU legislation as they either use renewable energies or combined heat and power production.

District heating in the Czech Republic means more than 600 licensed entities that manage several thousand kilometres of steam and hot water systems. Heat is generated in hundreds of CHP boilers and channelled to tens of thousands of client substations. In addition, the entire CHP industry pays major amounts to the government budget.

Over the past 30 years, the Czech district heating industry has successfully tackled a number of challenges, the biggest being the upgrading and greening of heat production and distribution and building lasting relationships with customers. Whereas the average annual heat consumption of a typical home in 1992 was 60 GJ, today it is just 25 GJ, and in new homes is even falling below 20 GJ. Over those last 30 years the level of emissions of sulphur and nitrogen oxides and dust per unit of heat supplied has fallen almost thirty-fold, and the greening process is not over yet.

CHP plants today employ sophisticated technologies that allow teams of energy engineers to manage the entire process of producing and distributing heat, cooling and electricity to customers. They have to react quickly both to changes in the weather and customers’ immediate needs. In the event of an accident or shutdown, service teams at CHP plants are ready to take immediate action and restore heat supply as soon as possible, whereas this is something that can take several days in the case of domestic boilers used for private heating.

Slowly but surely, the fuel base is changing. Although coal remains the dominant fuel at large CHP plants, the range of fuels they use is already very wide, including natural gas, other types of gas recoverable from industrial processes, and biomass in all its forms, through to the employment of heat pumps using geothermal energy or waste-to-energy. Conversely, the combustion of heavy fuel oil has almost died out entirely.

Over the next two years, most medium-sized CHP plants up to 200 MW will exit from coal, and most large plants also plan to phase out coal combustion by 2030, replacing it with biomass, natural gas and waste. Steam networks are also gradually being replaced by more efficient hot-water distribution systems, which help to reduce heat loss and are more convenient for customers.

The advantages of district heating include supply reliability, convenience, cost savings, and the environment, i.e. a comprehensive package of customer services. District heating systems tick all the boxes for a simple, convenient and affordable method of heating – they are economical, safe, environmentally friendly and also local. In addition to the connection of new customers, the expansion of heat distribution networks and their upgrading also increases the stability of heat supplies from CHP plants. Since 2014, for example, CHP plants have replaced old steam networks with 130 kilometres of new, more efficient hot water networks. At the same time, they have invested over CZK 25 billion in greening their facilities, and greatly reduced their emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide and dust.

Benefits of district heating

  • Reliability
  • Good price
  • Comfort
  • Ecology
  • Safety

The CHP industry is environmentally friendly, making use of all possible sustainable sources of heat that can be supplied to its facilities. It offers its customers comfort, convenience and continuous service.

District heating has many benefits for both customers and the state. Emissions released from CHP and boiler plants are under constant control. The many components, systems and systems involved in the entire CHP and heat generation processes ensure that ultimately a CHP plant chimney releases almost no smoke but mostly vapour.

Households and companies connected to district heating systems do not have to solve issues related to emissions and the transition to other fuels and renewable sources. They need not worry about the huge investments required for greening under the constantly tightening European and Czech legislation. Heat supplies are reliable and secure. Installations and systems are under the constant monitoring of experienced staff and sophisticated systems. If a failure occurs, each district heat producer and distributor can rely on non-stop service available to resolve the issue immediately.

CHP facilities operate non-stop, providing hot water supplies all year round. As with a local installation, house and facility substations offer high heat supply comfort with the option of heating even during a cold summer. In the event of prolonged periods of heavy frost, each CHP has a peak load heating installation.

Bills issued by CHP plants always include the total final price of heat. It includes all eligible costs: energy, salaries, distribution, service, etc. The seemingly lower price of heating using a local boiler plant usually includes only the price of the fuel or energy, without the costs of acquisition, servicing and inspections.

District heat prices are stable in the long run. In the past quarter of a century, there have been changes in the prices and consumption of the various basic housing commodities: water, electricity, heat, hot water and waste collection. A comparison of spending on each commodity shows that the shares of household expenditure on water, electricity, water heating and refuse collection have grown, while the share of heating costs has contracted.

Even though district heating, the prevailing type of residential heating in the Czech Republic, is obviously environmentally friendlier than local heating, it is constantly under various types of pressure. For example, unlike local heating systems, it must pay emission fees.


New district heating customers

In the last five years, almost half (49.2%) of the homes in new apartment buildings have been connected to district heating systems. Since the year 2000, CHP plants have ensured thermal comfort for 85,800 additional apartments in new developments, which is roughly equivalent to a large town with 215,000 inhabitants. On top of that, more than 1,700 new family houses, equating to a town of about 6,000 people, have been enjoying heat supplies from CHP plants since 2000.

Connection to a district heating system is now the most common way to ensure thermal comfort in newly constructed apartments. Indeed, connecting to a district heating system is attractive even for new low energy buildings. District heating thus clearly shows that its modern approach to comprehensive service continues to apply in the 21st century.

Interest in connecting new apartment buildings to CHP plants continues to grow. Their new occupants enjoy all the benefits of full servicing and follow-up services included in the price of heat, and the improvement in urban air quality is another important consideration. As well as the residential sector, office, retail and sports centres are also connecting to CHP plants, along with smaller heat consumers such as nursery schools, business premises, etc.

District heating and circular economy

The circular economy is predicated on efficiently using the sources we have, rather than squandering them. The EU has been striving to prevent waste generation and promote product reuse for several years.

While Czechs are among the best in Europe at sorting waste, what is important is how the state then deals with that sorted waste. This may be a key factor for the further development of the circular economy in the Czech Republic.

Not all waste can be recycled. That leaves room for the modern recovery of energy from waste. The EU prefers and encourages energy recovery from treated waste to using untreated mixed waste. This is also apparent from the subsidy programmes, where the EU has repeatedly stated that it would not support any projects for mixed-waste-to-energy-recovery facilities. Hence, it encourages waste treatment including the production and use of refuse-derived fuels (RDFs).

The recovery of energy from waste within the circular economy relies in particular on the synergy of the production and use of waste-derived fuel with systems for sorting recoverable components and with the required reduction in the amount of mixed municipal waste.

Despite all the difficulties, the curtailment of landfilling is an opportunity for the Czech energy sector. The energy potential of mixed municipal waste has been clearly demonstrated. Its use is in line with the State Energy Policy and it could partially replace coal in the energy sector. Companies are ready and municipalities are interested in making investments and preparing actively for future objectives. The outputs must be marketable, however, to ensure that the new technologies are economically viable, and that companies and municipalities embrace modern technologies. 

Jakub Tobola
Commercial Director
Veolia Czech Republic