There are many thousands of heat sources in Irish cities and large towns wasting vast amounts of energy which could be harnessed to provide cheap, low-carbon heat for nearby households and businesses, a conference in Dublin has been told.
These include power stations, data centres, industrial plants, breweries, cement factories and waste water treatment plants.
Donna Gartland, director of the Irish District Energy Association (IrDEA), told her association's national conference up to 57 per cent of the country's total heat demand could be provided by district heating networks, if necessary Government regulations were in place.
Anywhere there is a chimney with steam coming out of it was a potential heat source, Ms Gartland explained.
District heating is a network of insulated pipes that delivers heat from central energy sources to provide space heating and hot water to the buildings connected to the network.
Ireland ranks as one of the lowest countries in Europe for generating renewable heat. Countries with the highest levels, such as Denmark and Sweden, make widespread use of district heating networks.
IrDEA, together with the ESB, unveiled the first Irish heat atlas at the conference, which highlights areas with most potential for developing district heating networks.
Compiled by the German energy specialist Prof Bernd Möller, it shows district heating is a viable, low-carbon solution that can meet the majority of Ireland’s heat demand.
Ms Gartland said there was enough waste heat in Dublin to meet all heat demands in the capital, she added.
Two pilot district heating schemes are about to be developed in Dublin with backing from the Government’s Climate Action Fund.
Tallaght District Heating Scheme, due to start construction later this year, will provide heat and cooling to a 1,200-apartment development, Tallaght IT and South Dublin County Council buildings. It will be the first project in Europe to source heat from a local data centre. There are 41 data centres in the capital, a figure which is set to double by 2024.
Dublin District Heating Scheme will be linked to Covanta’s waste-to-energy plant in Ringsend, and is expected to be begin construction by 2020 and serve Poolbeg, Grand Canal Dock and North Lotts strategic development zones.
Michael Manley, assistant secretary general of the Department of Climate Action and Environment said a working group was identifying the barriers, policy requirements and financing of district heating. New housing developments and areas with deeper density of housing created the opportunity to plan for district heating, he added.
A draft policy framework would be published later this year, but the idea that the exchequer was going to finance everything was not going to work, he said.
Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland chief executive Jim Gannon said providing distinct heating was a utility business with a low profit margin, or "a public service".