The integration of collective heating systems in society

The Climate Agreement (2019) included plans for making the built environment more sustainable. The roll-out of heat networks is an important strategy here. It is a major challenge to shape the transition from natural gas to collective heating systems in such a way that it will be widely supported by society as a whole. The acceptance of heat networks by local residents is important in this respect, as are the creation of supported collaboration and financing models for this infrastructure and the development of decision tools as a basis for the construction and upscaling of heat networks.

Among others, the following questions relating to the integration of collective heating systems in society are a central focus of WarmingUp theme 6. KWR is involved in three of the four subprojects in this theme and it is working closely with researchers from TNO, Deltares, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Saxion University of Applied Sciences and Utrecht University.

KWR is working on the following activities:

  1. Project 6A: Developing action perspectives for municipal authorities, housing corporations and heating companies about how to increase the acceptance of collective heat networks among local residents.
  2. Project 6B: The joint development and testing of innovative collaborative and financing models by the various parties involved in the heat chain (from production and distribution to use).
  3. Project 6C: The development of tools to help municipal authorities explain the grounds for the decision to develop a collective heat network in gas-free areas, including approaches to upscaling and opportunities for combining this development with the construction of other infrastructure.

Action perspectives for enhancing acceptance

The acceptance by local residents of a switch to a natural-gas-free area or a collective heat network is not a given and it would seem to be a major challenge. Project A – Motivations and Requirements – of theme 6 will study the acceptance of heat networks by residents on the basis of two key questions: acceptance of what and by whom? On the basis of these questions, three levels can be distinguished:

  1. Sociopolitical acceptance
    Acceptance of what? Acceptance of social ambitions and developments in the area of gas-free neighbourhoods and heat networks. Acceptance by whom? The role of the local resident here is that of a citizen in society.
  2. Process acceptance
    Acceptance of what? The acceptance of the design of the process to choose a natural-gas-free solution for a neighbourhood or home. Acceptance by whom? The resident in the role of a person living in the area.
  3. Product acceptance
    Acceptance of what? The acceptance of the adaptations that the new approach to heating will entail in a person’s own home or living environment. Acceptance by whom? The resident as the end user of the heat network.

The three levels of acceptance: sociopolitical, process and product acceptance.

These levels of acceptance were assessed by residents in a national questionnaire and focus groups (autumn 2020). That assessment was used as a basis to map out in a generic way the current acceptance of heat networks and ‘natural-gas-free’ neighbourhoods. This has been further elaborated on the basis of a more detailed analysis of target groups, making a distinction between residents on the basis of the type of housing (rented or owner-occupied), age, level of education and subjective value orientation.

In the summer of 2021, these insights into the factors that contribute to the higher or lower acceptance of the levels mentioned above will be further elaborated in draft action perspectives for parties involved in the development of collective heat networks. In 2022, these action perspectives will be tested in practical cases, both for evaluation and testing purposes.

KWR is the leader of project 6A, in which it is working with researchers from TNO and Saxion University of Applied Sciences.

Development of innovative arrangements

In the heat transition, we expect to see a plurality of possible arrangements relating to local heat networks. Here, we use the term ‘arrangement’ to refer to how the heating project is organised in the broadest sense: it involves, for example, the approach to decision-making, the allocation of roles to the various parties and financing. We still do not know enough about the arrangements that will be needed for the heating facilities of the future. Are existing chain alliances the most effective? Or are new collaborative models required? Project 6B – Local Arrangements will investigate and design possible arrangements for local collective heating facilities. On the basis of successes and areas requiring improvement, various types of arrangements will be evaluated and innovative arrangements will be designed. The knowledge will be brought together in a handbook that will help municipal authorities and heating initiatives to shape their approaches to working together.

In this project, KWR is working with Erasmus University Rotterdam, Deltares, Utrecht University and TNO.

Support for decisions and routes to upscaling

In ten years’ time, we will have to connect about 750,000 homes to collective heating systems. This will require an enormous – possibly public – investment. The aim of this project is to avoid investing in suboptimal routes for upscaling that will cost society more than necessary. But how can we plan for that now? And how can we design this upscaling process as efficiently and smartly as possible? Project 6C – Support for decisions and routes to upscaling – will evaluate and analyse different ways of thinking about heating: what are the options and uncertainties? On that basis, a set of instruments is being developed that can help municipal authorities and consultancies with the development of long-term strategies for heat transition visions that will enjoy widespread support.

In this project, KWR is working with TNO and Saxion University of Applied Sciences.