Although district heating in Hungary has tended to be associated with skyrocketing energy bills and inflexibility, research and Western practice show that it can not only offer a competitive alternative for businesses, but also do the environment a favor.
Although September 15 brought a day of Indian summer to Budapest this year, the date also marked the official kick-off of the heating season, at least for those with a district heating contract. However, heat will start flowing to target units only subject to terms laid down in individual agreements, says Péter Herpai, director of communications at Főtáv Zrt., which serves some 245,000 customers in the capital.
“Service provision is launched automatically if the median temperature hits a certain degree, or according to the specific request of consumers. Both cases are regulated in the relevant contracts for operation,” he explains.
Whilst district heating may have a rather negative reputation in Hungary, the same cannot be said of certain other countries. In Denmark, for example, 63% of households are hooked up to such networks. The Danes are particularly known for capturing and redistributing heat that would otherwise be wasted, something others could learn from. Reusing energy waste from industry and channeling it into public networks play a key role in the first Healing and Cooling Strategy of the European Union as well. Since building and industrial heating and cooling account for 50% of the EUʼs energy consumption, the strategy has huge potential to produce substantial energy savings.
But what about Budapest? “We can detect growing interest on the part of consumers with large energy needs such as industrial premises, office buildings or large-sized public institutions and investors of residential parks,” Herpai says. “In fact, one of our calculations concluded that district heating is not only competitive for new developments, but up to a surface of 90 sqm it is even more cost-efficient than individual gas heating.”
Herpai points to Főtávʼs modeling, according to which pollution could be cut by 47 tons (including 27 tons of nitrogen-dioxide, three tons of sulfate-dioxide and 13 tons of dust) for every 10,000 households and entities switching to district heating.
“In Copenhagen, 98% of all buildings are connected to the district heating network, whereas in downtown Vienna related pipeline developments resulted in a radical cut of air pollution,” Herpai says. Among other effects, the chances for a smog alert would go down significantly. Another important factor in this regard is that heat is produced under controlled circumstances outside town, with sophisticated filter systems in place.
Veolia Energia Magyarország Zrt. is another big player in the district heating arena, providing district heating for 12,000 apartments in 11 towns, and thermal energy to a further 109,000 residential and institutional customers nationwide. The corporate group also provides energy for 31 industrial centers and 85 public buildings. Its key strategy aims at further improving the eco-friendliness of its service by increasing the ratio of biomass in its energy source mix. In fact, in Pécs heat is provided solely from biomass.
Veoliaʼs experience is also that the trend of moving away from district heating has stopped, and not only from private residents. The hospital in Esztergom recently became a customer, and businesses are increasingly attracted, too. Vibracoustic CV Air Springs Magyarország Kft. has signed a customer agreement with Tiszántúli Hőtermelő Kft., a Veolia subsidiary.
“It is important that whether or not to get connected to district heating is determined by the potential savings. Another factor may be if an entity’s heat center becomes outdated to such an extent that a large-scale investment for modernization would be needed. In such cases, the decision may be facilitated by the district heating provider’s pledge to guarantee savings and take over the burden of works related to connecting. But this is a realistic scenario at places where dense district heating exists and new users may join at relatively small expense,” Veolia said in a statement sent to the Budapest Business Journal.