District heating transformation – strategies, measures, and status quo of the transformation phase of the district heating suppliers

Many district heating suppliers are currently trying to reduce the emissions of their generator parks and switch to climate-neutral heat sources. However, more than just new climate-neutral heat sources are necessary for decarbonization. Measures that enable the integration of these heat sources must also be implemented. To apply a holistic transformation, it is essential to follow an appropriate long-term strategy. However, many district heating suppliers and municipalities need to learn how to proceed to create a plan for the sustainable transformation of the heat supply.

Based on methods developed via academic analyses in multiple projects (Future Strategy for District Heating, Climate-neutral Heat Supply in Munich 2035, District Heating Competence Network and Green District Heating for Germany) and the experiences of practical partners inside the district heating sector, suitable templates were developed at the FfE to support the creation of such a plan for the sustainable transformation of the heat supply.

An overview matrix was created to facilitate the discussion and collection of transformation measures, which breaks down these measures according to the criteria of a place of action and transformation goal (see “How can a transformation of district heating be achieved?“).

A visualization for the evaluation and prioritization of the measures, which serves as a basis for discussion for the final determination of the measure prioritization, can be based on the results of a benefit analysis. The results can be mapped in an advanced Eisenhower matrix, in which the long-term profitability is mapped over the temporal urgency, while the result of the benefit analysis is displayed via the circle size (see Figure 1). In addition, related measures can be easily identified via a circle of the same color.

Visualization of the results of the measure evaluation

The short paper “Green District Heating for Germany – Potential, Costs, Implementation” presents the procedure for creating a transformation strategy in more detail.

Evaluating the existing strategy to determine its degree of maturity can be very helpful in identifying and evaluating the further steps in the strategy development. The maturity levels shown in Figure 2 below were developed for this purpose, based on similar categorizations in the digitalization of companies.


Possible maturity levels of a district heating transformation strategy

A survey was carried out with various district heating suppliers as part of the District Heating Competence Network, in which they assigned their transformation strategy to one of the maturity levels. Based on this self-assessment, most of the strategies were categorized as conceptual strategies (maturity level 2). None of the strategies were assigned to one of the last two maturity levels. Before this survey, the FfE’s internal experts also assessed each strategy of the individual companies, and the results corresponded well with the self-assessment of the WärmeNetzWerk participants. The results are described in Table 1 below.

Classification of participants in the District Heating Competence Network to maturity levels