What is District Energy?

District energy systems are an alternative to conventional in-building heating and cooling equipment. From a centralized plant, large volumes of steam heat and chilled water are produced and transported through an underground system of pipes to individual buildings where it is used for space heating and cooling, domestic hot water heating, and humidification.

Highly efficient, district energy requires less fuel to generate thermal energy than onsite HVAC systems, and eliminates the need for equipment that is costly to install, operate, and maintain, in each individual building.

The Benefits of District Energy



District energy systems aggregate the heating and cooling loads of individual buildings. This is a more efficient way to meet fluctuating demand compared with conventional HVAC systems that need to ramp up and down to meet demand.



With district energy, capital costs are lower because there is no need to install expensive boilers, chillers, and cooling towers onsite. Also, fuel savings are available thanks to bulk purchasing of energy and the integration of sustainable combined heat and power technologies. Finally, costs are significantly reduced as there is no equipment to operate and maintain.



Efficiencies in a district energy system also result in a reduction of fossil fuel use that can lead to reductions in indoor and outdoor air pollution, which impacts the health and welfare of local communities. Cleveland Thermal’s production plant is powered by natural gas, which emits 50-60% less carbon dioxide (CO2) when compared with emissions from a typical new coal plant.



District energy systems are recognized for their resiliency which is why they are often used by hospitals, university research centers, military bases, and specialty industries like food processing and pharmaceuticals. Industry best practices include industrial-grade production equipment and controls, continuous operational monitoring, advanced load forecasting, and advanced controls to optimize operations.

Further Resources

These organizations are an excellent source for district energy news, information, and global best practices.