Energy cycle of a district heating system

What Is A District Heating System?

What is a District Heating System?

District Heating Systems – also known as Heat Networks – deliver energy from a central source to a number of domestic or non-domestic properties for central heating and hot water. Around 500,000 properties in the UK are currently connected to District Heating Systems.

Already well-established technology in other areas of Europe, the systems are a key element of the Government’s ongoing drive to reduce carbon emissions and cut the cost of heating bills for both domestic and commercial customers.

It is estimated that by 2050, around 18 per cent of heat will need to be generated from such networks if the UK is to achieve its carbon target cost-effectively. It is why Government is investing heavily in the technology, allocating £320 million to help grow the market in Heat Networks by attracting a further £2 billion in capital investment.

District Heating Systems can provide heat on a large scale and serve properties which are often several miles apart from a single source. They shouldn’t be confused with Communal Heating Systems which can only typically provide an energy source to one or two properties.

How does a District Heating System work?

At the heart of a District Heating System is the distribution network of insulated pipes, which delivers the heat to a number of buildings, much in the same way electricity, gas and water are conventionally delivered.

But it means that rather than each property having its own central heating system and individual boiler, several use the same heat source, lowering carbon emissions and saving owners money on their energy bills.

The heat is usually delivered in the form of steam and can come from a variety of centralised power sources, such as power stations, bio-mass boilers, energy from waste systems or geothermal solutions.

Where are we using District Heating Systems?

As part of our commitment to bring forward a good range of new homes across the Westcountry, delivering high efficiency standards, our homes at Equinox on the outskirts of Exeter, near Pinhoe, utilise District Heating technology.

All 307 one- to four-bedroom open market and affordable properties at our Equinox community are connected to the Monkerton District Heating System, which provides them a sustainable and cost-effective source of heat and hot water. The network, operated by E.ON Energy, also provides energy to Exeter Science Park as well as surrounding residential properties.


The principle of District Heating Systems actually dates back to Roman times when they were used to heat greenhouses and hot water baths. In March 2020, a world-first scheme was announced for using waste heat from the London Underground to provide heating and hot water to more than 1,300 homes and other buildings.