District Heating System in Flachau, Austria

[A version of this article was also posted at GreenBuildingAdvisor.com].

Annette, our daughters and I just spent a week in Flachau, Austria with Annette’s family. Flachau is not far from the Austrian city of Graz, where Annette lived until she was twelve years old. Over the years I have heard stories about Flachau, because it’s where Annette used to go skiing with her family when she was a child.  I was pleased that we could give our daughters a version of the ski experience that Annette and her sisters had as children. I say “a version,” because thirty years ago Flachau was a sleepy farming village, and today it’s a bustling ski town.  We had great conditions for skiing, and I am posting some photos in the Gallery section for anyone who might be interested.

district heating plant tucked into the landscape

district heating plant in the distance

2 close-up of buildingOne morning Annette and I looked after our two year old nephew Jonas so that his parents — Annette’s sister Doreen and her husband Stefan — could go skiing together.   We pulled Jonas in a sled along a cross-country ski trail that brought us by a large industrial building flanked by huge piles of logs and chips.

“Holzwärme Flachau” read the sign on the front of the building — Wood Heating Flachau.  The building is the heart of Flachau’s “Fernwärme Netzwerk,” or district heating system. Locally sourced wood chips are burned to create hot water that is pumped throughout the village to provide heat and hot water to residents.

A few days later I was back at the facility, asking for a tour.  What follows are notes and photos from that tour.

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District Heating in Berlin

Sedanstr 1What can I say?  I’m interested in underground utilities: those hidden networks of tunnels, pipes and wires that provide so many of the services that we tend to take for granted.

This block-long excavation at the side of a residential street looked to me like it involved municipal water and Sedanstr 3sewer pipes, but the men working on it told me that they were upgrading distribution for heat and domestic hot water.  I presume that the smaller pipes with the thick white insulation are carrying heat and hot water.

Where does the hot water come from? “Ein Heizungskessel” — a boiler.

I later learned via a  quick internet search that:

Berlin ranks top among the cities in Germany with regard to its use of cogeneration systems. The city has the largest district-heating network in Western Europe. A 1,600-kilometer network of pipes delivers heat to consumers using resource-conserving technologies. Over 280 cogeneration plants across the city provide reliable and environmentally friendly heat and electricity. Nearly 30 percent of the district-heating market in Berlin is supplied by cogeneration plants, and the city has long-term plans to boost this percentage further.

So a distributed network of cogeneration plants, fired primarily by natural gas and coal, creates electricity and heat for a significant portion of the city.

Before we arrived in Germany, I had been planning to look into the biomass-fired (wood chips and pellets) district heating systems that have been developed in Northern Austria.  I was not expecting to find examples of district heating systems under my feet in Berlin.