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Infrastructure for district heating at the Poolbeg Incinerator / Energy to Waste Facility Lauren Boland/The Journal
district heating

Hot water from Poolbeg Incinerator to heat over 50,000 buildings from 2025

Excess hot water from the facility could be pumped into pipes instead of being cooled down and released into the Liffey.

HOT WATER FROM the Poolbeg Incinerator will be used to transport heat directly to more than 50,000 buildings in the surrounding area starting from late 2025 to help reduce Ireland’s reliance on fossil fuels.

The Department of Environment has today launched a report into district heating, a system that involves delivering heat to buildings through insulated pipes instead of individual buildings generating heat.

It can be powered by fossil fuels but lends itself well to renewable energy sources, which has garnered it favour in some countries’ plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions. It’s a prominent practice in other European countries such as Denmark but hasn’t gained ground in Ireland before this year.

national heat study by the Sustainable Energy Authority last year found that up to 50% of heat needed by buildings could be powered by low-carbon sources through district heating. 

Currently, the Poolbeg incinerator, also known as the waste to energy facility, uses energy created in the process of burning waste to feed power into the electricity grid.

However, excess hot water from the incinerator is pumped out into the Liffey and has to be significantly cooled down first so as not to injure marine life, which itself is a process that consumes energy.

Instead, a district heating system would see the hot water pumped into insulated pipes and transported to buildings in Docklands and further south.

Necessary infrastructure was installed in the facility in 2017 but has lain in wait for the government to catch up.

Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan said the system should start to work by the end of 2025, with the rollout beginning with offices on the quays that already have the correct type of pipes in place.

Other locations to be served by district heating could include social housing around Ringsend and the south inner city, St Vincent’s Hospital and the new maternity hospital, and Georgian buildings that could not be easily retrofitted for insulation but that could be hooked up to new pipes.

In recent years, Ireland has been ranked the worst country in Europe for using renewable energy sources to power heating and cooling.

In 2020, only 6% of the energy consumed for heating and cooling in Ireland came from renewable sources, dropping even further to just 5.2% in 2021 was worse again at just 5.2%.

In both years, it was the lowest proportion of any EU country and well below the average across the bloc.

Asked by The Journal why Ireland has done so poorly in this area to date, the minister said that there has not been enough political focus turned to it.

“You don’t exactly get a big crowd if a politician is cutting the ribbon on a boiler,” he said.

“It didn’t get attention. It wasn’t at the top of the priorities but it is now because it’s a big gap.”

1IMG-2738 Minister Eamon Ryan launching the District Heating Steering Group Report Lauren Boland / The Journal Lauren Boland / The Journal / The Journal

On whether district heating will be introduced in other parts of the country, Minister Ryan said: “I’m going to every single council around the country because they all have to have a new climate plan by next spring and the first thing I say to every one of them, the managers and the councillors when I meet them, is where’s your waste heat? Where’s your industrial plant, where they’re doing the same thing happening here, just releasing the waste heat? And look to see where can we provide the next source.”

“I think the next big one is in West Dublin with all those major data centres and our big hospitals beside them.”

But relying on data centres to prop up renewable systems is controversial given the massive strain that data centres are putting on Ireland’s energy grid.

The first foray into the area was launched in Tallaght earlier this year, where waste heat from an Amazon Web Services data centre is being used to heat offices, Tallaght library, part of the TU Dublin campus, and apartments.

“[Data centres] are up and running and they’re wasting the heat at the moment, so it’s converting what’s currently a wasted resource into a valuable resource,” the minister said today.

“I don’t think it’ll change the issue about whether we get new data centres. It’s just tapping into the existing ones where there’s waste heat and we’ve shown we can do it out in Tallaght so I don’t see why we shouldn’t do it elsewhere.”

The 2023 Climate Action Plan called for a steering group to produce a report on options for district heating in Ireland.

The report, which was delayed by several months, recommends that a national centre should be established to co-ordinate district heating projects and local authorities should develop projects in their areas.

The national centre, known as the District Heating Centre of Excellence, should carry out detailed economic analysis of ways to approach district heating and the Department of Environment should propose legislation to regulate the sector, the report says.

It also recommends the creation of a long-term strategy for district heating, a funded grant programme for studies into potential district heating schemes, and research into the public’s awareness of and views on district heating.

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