The development of modern district energy is one of the least-cost and most efficient solutions in reducing emissions and primary energy demand in cities. Local governments have a key role to play in this transformation. The Global District Energy in Cities Initiative provides capacity building and technical assistance to local governments and their partners to develop enabling policies, address barriers, unlock investment and scale-up modern district energy in cities. This initiative includes both district heating and district cooling systems.

Over 25 cities worldwide have joined the initiative, and both champion and learning cities are invited to join. Tells us how you would like to engage and benefit from the Global District Energy in Cities Initiative by filling in this questionnaire







About the initiative

The Global District Energy in Cities Initiative (DES Initiative) was launched in September 2014, as the implementing mechanism for the Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) Energy Efficiency Accelerator Platform. The ongoing DES Initiative is a multi-stakeholder partnership and pool of expertise that promotes the transfer of policy, finance and technical know-how. With UN Environment as the lead partner, it includes UN-Habitat, ICLEI as a local government partner, International District Energy Association (IDEA), Euroheat&Power and numerous other NGOs and private sector partners. 



Meet some of the cities in the Initiative (click to expand)

Gothenburg, Sweden

Gothenburg’s district heating system initiated in 1953 with a CHP system. In response to the oil crisis of the 1970s and the city’s bad air quality the system was expanded significantly in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, the system supplies heat to 60 per cent of the city’s residents, and 70 per cent of it comes from renewable sources or is waste heat from waste incineration, industry or sewage water. Gothenburg district heating production doubled between 1973 and 2010, while CO2 emissions fell by half and the city’s nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions declined even more sharply. Gothenburg is the lead partner of Project CELSIUS, a grant programme provided by the EU, financing innovative demonstration projects across Europe utilizing waste heat. In Gothenburg, even ships are connected to district heating networks.

Helsinki, Finland

In Helsinki, nearly all the heating and cooling needs are supplied via district networks, and its energy utility has been distinguished with awards due to its high level of innovation and efficiency: “Helsingin Energia’s DHC smart city- solution combines CHP, district heating and district cooling in the most energy-efficient way in the world” (IDEA, 2015). A few examples: the system has tri-generation capacity, its CHP plants run up to 93% efficiency, heat is captured from district cooling return water for zero-waste, and a heat pump captures 165,000 GWh of heat from the city’s wastewater - making it the largest heat pump station in the world. The utility has set targets to increase cooling capacity of over 200 MW by 2015 and expand cooling to new residential areas by 2020. This will contribute to achieve the target of City of Helsinki to reach 20% share of renewables in energy production in 2020 (up from 7% in 2013).

Paris, France

The City of Paris has extensive experience with district heating. In 1927, the city created a first concession to deliver steam for heating national and public buildings and thus reduce the city’s coal and wood use, and associated logistics, and minimize fire risk and improve air quality. Today, the network continues to flourish using the underground tunnels that already serve the Paris metro system. The network provides cheap, safe and reliable heating to all of the city’s hospitals, half of all social housing units, and half of all public buildings equivalent of 500,000 households. Heat is produced at eight facilities – including two cogeneration facilities and three waste-to-energy plants. Currently Paris is working to increase the renewable energy share with biomass, geothermal and heat recovery from sewers. 

Rajkot, India

Rajkot, a model Urban-LEDS city in India, committed to become the first pilot city of the Global District Energy in Cities Initiative in April 2015. Rajkot’s Municipal Commissioner Mr. Vijay Nehra: “Rajkot is delighted to be the first pilot city in India to partner with UNEP and ICLEI for implementing District Energy Systems. We are hopeful that our experience in implementing the Urban-LEDS project together with ICLEI will help us apply the District Energy Systems pilot project.” The Commissioner referred to the importance of the creation of such community of practice and peer-learning between cities to contribute to advance district energy systems, while simultaneously highlighted the need to consider the local circumstances to ensure the solutions implemented adequately address local needs. Technical visits have already started. Rapid assessment of feasibility of district cooling are being carried namely in public buildings and along a Transit Oriented Development corridor

Rotterdam, Netherlands

Rotterdam has one of the largest industrial harbours in Europe, with significant potential for waste heat recovery. In 2010, the city decided to invest €38 million (US$50.9 million) to establish a municipal district heating company to develop a 26 km heat transmission connection. To create sufficient economies of scale on the demand side to expand the district heating network, the city sought and obtained support from several large housing cooperatives, building developers and energy companies to meet the target of connecting the equivalent of 150,000 households to the network. In addition, a local ordinance was introduced making it mandatory to connect new buildings to the network in order to reduce the risk for the district energy companies. Rotterdam now has its own “heat roundabout” and heat hub with smart storage which ensure a reliable heat supply to the city.

(Image by Michielverbeek via Wikimedia.)

Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA

In Saint Paul, US$12 million in energy expenses kept circulating in the local economy thanks to district energy. Long-term revenue bonds were issued to develop both the heating and cooling networks, and the city was able to avoid having to guarantee debt repayments. This was made possible by the signing of long-term contracts with initial customers. In addition, through integrated energy, transport and urban planning, St. Paul used the construction of a light-rail line to extend the city’s district energy infrastructure several kilometres to a major industrial customer, while minimizing costs and nuisance. Currently the City of Saint Paul is working on the transition to renewable energy and has already developed 2,140 m2 of solar collectors with a thermal peak capacity of 1.2 MWth to incorporate into the district heat networks.

(Image by John Polo via Wikimedia.)

Tokyo, Japan

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government introduced its District Energy Planning System for Effective Utilization in 2009, based on the principle that district-wide energy planning and energy consideration in the early stages of planning are necessary to further promote the design of energy efficient buildings and to introduce renewable energy. New developments above 50,000 m2 of floor area are required to provide an Energy Plan for Effective Utilization in order to obtain a building permit. The Plan submission requires studying the introduction of unused energy, renewable energy, and district heating and cooling. For buildings that exceed 10,000 m2 or residential developments that exceed 20,000 m2 in total floor area, developers also are required to provide an economic and technical assessment of district energy and consultation with district energy suppliers.

Vancouver, Canada

The City of Vancouver, for the 2010 Winter Olympics, developed a publicly owned district heating utility that captures waste heat from sewage. The financial structuring of the project proved the commercial viability of district heating in Vancouver and has encouraged private sector development of district heating elsewhere in the city. The system became fully operational in 2010, only five years after the first feasibility study. The City of Vancouver controlled 17% of the initial system load and, as part of a neighborhood wide development plan, was able to implement a service-area bylaw to ensure connection of the remaining loads.

Växjö, Sweden

The City of Växjö has one of the highest shares of renewable energy in energy supply in Sweden and has a success story environmental restoration and in the conversion from oil and peat to locally sourced biomass, creating local jobs and providing clean, renewable energy. The relatively small city (82,000 inhabitants) has an approximate coverage of 96% by the district heating network. Already in 2005, nearly 88% of the heat was produced from renewables, largely biomass via Combine Heat and Power (CHP) but also geothermal, and only 13% from fossil fuels. The City of Växjö noted that the CO2 tax, which raises the cost of oil consumption in plants and in private homes, was key to district energy development, as consumers seek cheaper alternatives.


(Image by Monika via Creative Commons.)

Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw has the largest district heating system in the EU, supplying 136 km2 of floor space and meeting 76% of the city’s heating requirements. Faced with the need to refurbish and modernize the system, in 2011, the city sold 85% of its publicly owned district heating company to inject the capital needed for such improvements. Veolia Polska S.A, which now operates the system, has pledged to invest PLN1 billion (US$310 billion) during 2012–2018 to finance essential upgrades, including the modernization and expansion.



Webinar recordings

District Energy business models and financial structuring - 27 April 2017

From wholly-public to wholly-private, there is a wide range of hybrid business models and configurations in terms of ownership and financial structuring of the investment. Public and private sector speakers shared their experience on business models, financial structuring and business development. Cases from champion and learning cities in the Global District Energy in Cities  Initiative were profiled, including Warsaw and Belgrade.

Making the business case for district energy - 15 February 2017

Learn about important aspects to consider in making the case for district energy and successfully progressing to viable projects, including the role of the public sector in creating an enabling framework and strengthening the case. District heating and district cooling examples were provided with the participation of London, Banja Luka and Copenhagen.

Integrating district energy into energy and urban planning - 13 December 2016

Learn about the opportunities that integrating district energy into energy master planning, land-use and urban policies offers. This webinar provides information on the process and some of the tools available to support your city.

Is your City seizing the benefits of District Energy? - 2 November 2016

Learn about district energy benefits and value creation, its key determinants of feasibility and get a high-level overview of policies and processes.

Full system accounting of energy efficiency in buildings - 3 November 2015

With special guests from the European Commission, the City of Vancouver and the City of Rotterdam

The following Cities have joined or endorsed the Initiative:

Anshan (China) Hetauda (Nepal) Recife (Brazil)
Banja Luka (BH) Honiara (Solomon Islands) San Jose (Costa Rica)
Belgrade (Serbia) Isoko (Nigeria) Santa Monica (USA)
Betim (Brazil) Jambi (Indonesia) Sarajevo (BH)
Bharatpur (Nepal) Jeju (South Korea) Science City of Munoz (Philippines)
Bhopal (India) Jinan (China) Seoul (South Korea)
Bogotá (Colombia) Kurseong (India) Sorocaba (Brazil)
Boston (USA) London (UK) St. Paul (USA)
Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) Malé (Maldives) Surrey (Canada)
Cali (Colombia) Mexico City (Mexico) Tegucigalpa (Honduras)
Cape Town (S. Africa) Milan (Italy) Temuco (Chile)
Carpinteria (USA) Mushin (Nigeria) Thane (India)
Chegutu (Zimbabwe) Naga City (Philipines) Tlokwe (South Africa)
Coimbatore (India) Nairobi (Kenya) Tokyo (Japan)
Dakar (Senegal) Nairobi (Kenya) Tshwane (South Africa)
Dehradun (India) Nioro (Senegal) Tubigon (Philippines)
Dubai (UEA) Paris (France) Vancouver (Canada)
Focsani (Romania) Portland (USA) Vaxjo (Sweden)
Frankfurt (Germany) Pune (India) Velenje (Slovenia)
Gothenburg (Sweden) Quito (Ecuador) Warsaw (Poland)
Helsinki (Finland) Rajkot (India)  


To learn more and engage in the initiative contact Ana Marques at the Bonn Center for Local Climate Action and Reporting at the ICLEI World Secretariat: 



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