Decentralised multi-wire heating grids – appealing energy-wise, but politically feasible?

Decentralised heating grids have many potential benefits. They use renewable energy sources and promise to increase energy efficiency while also serving as heat storage units. But is there an expedient way of promoting such heating grids politically? The "LowExTra" project evaluates the options.


District heating is customarily generated in big, centralised cogeneration plants, which are powered either by fossil fuels or biomass. This heat is then used by decentralised consumers, mostly buildings, to meet the demand for space heating and warm water. With innovative multi-wire networks, it would theoretically be possible to meet this demand using heat from decentralised facilities. In these intelligent networks, consumers of heat – such as buildings or even single households – simultaneously become producers (prosumers). If different prosumers are linked to various usage and production profiles, such a system could have the capacity to service a city district. Heat-generating technologies such as solarthermics, thermal pumps, condensing boilers or mini cogeneration plants could possibly be used in such a system.

adelphi implements the political component of "LowExTra"

The "LowExTra" research project is investigating the feasibility of such multi-wire heating grids from a technical, economic, political and participatory perspective. adelphi’s assignment is to conduct a comprehensive policy analysis, focussing on all aspects of heating-related policy. For example, which legal regulations and political promoting instruments are needed to entice building owners and grid operators to become part of this kind of innovative multi-wire heating grid? In order to develop solutions to these challenges, a review of the current political and legal frameworks and funding options will be conducted as a first step. As a second step, adelphi will develop a structured presentation of the current landscape, including actors, regulations and sources of funding. Following from this, recommendations for action will be developed as a third step.

This three-year research project will be sponsored by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), as part of its sixth energy research program. The project partners include the Berlin-based think tank adelphi, the Hermann Rietschel Institute at Technische Universtität Berlin (technical module), the Institute for Ecological Economy Research (economic module), and the nexus Institute for Cooperation Management and Interdisciplinary Research (participatory module).