District Heating in Sweden: efficiency and innovation

District heating in Sweden plays a pivotal role in the country’s energy landscape, with profound implications for both their economy and environment. 

Sweden has long been at the forefront of sustainable energy practices, and its extensive district heating systems represent a striking example of this commitment.  

In many ways, it could be argued that the case of district heating in Sweden represents a prodigious phenomenon. As such, the Scandinavian country has managed to substantially reduce its CO2 emissions, all while maintaining a sustainable economic growth.

The focus to this successful transition has been placed on the ways district heating in Sweden could be made more efficient and sustainable. In fact, it was the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency that pointed out how efficient district heating was behind this success. 

The ability to access energy supplies other than fossil fuels has been at the center of this transformation. While in the 1980s this heating model was almost fully powered by fossil fuels, by 2017 renewable and recycled heat constituted 90% of its power.

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Sweden thus represents a guiding light for other EU countries. While neighboring countries such as Denmark also present a promising district heating landscape, the European continent as a whole is looking to make a transition towards district heating efficiency.

Let’s delve into how district heating in Sweden has become a cornerstone of the nation's drive towards a greener, more economically resilient future, as well as its notable impact on reducing carbon emissions and promoting a sustainable society.

Some facts about the Swedish sustainable miracle and the role of district heating in Sweden

  • Sweden has already reached the climate goals from the Kyoto protocol. In fact, the country over-achieved its Kyoto Protocol and domestic targets, with their domestic emissions over 2008-12 being about 15% below the base-year emissions. The OECD describes the country’s successful formula as a blend of a low-carbon energy mix, strong energy efficiency gains and significant carbon taxes.

  • The first Swedish district heating system was put in place in Karlstad in 1948, consisting of a combined heat and power plant for an industrial facility. Today, there are at least 500 systems put in place, with all major cities and towns presenting their own system. 

The link between district heating in Sweden and their successful environmental efforts is direct: as the Heat Roadmap Europe pointed out, district heating and cooling are in fact an effective solution for the EU to reach the climate goals. This is precisely the reason why district heating market figures continue rising, as this approach to heating becomes the fingerprint for advancing towards sustainability.

  • Important efforts have been placed to decarbonise district heating, with strong local governments acting as crucial actors in the wider national climate strategy.

This is based on the importance of decarbonising the heating and cooling sector, as recognized by the European Green Deal and the ‘Fit for 55’ package. 

  • Sweden has been actively investing in renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and hydropower, which today make up a substantial portion of the country's energy production.
  • The country has implemented various policies and initiatives to improve energy efficiency in buildings and industries, aiming to reduce energy consumption and emissions.


  • Sweden has a carbon tax in place, which encourages industries and individuals to reduce their carbon emissions by placing a price on them. In fact, the country became pioneers in this respect by introducing a national carbon dioxide tax as early as 1991. Furthermore, this system has encouraged a number of economic initiatives which have put the focus on green technologies and energy.
  • Sweden is known for its commitment to research and innovation in the field of sustainable energy. The country has a strong focus on developing new technologies and solutions to address energy sustainability. As such, they have pioneered a number of cutting-edge district heating initiatives, including several fifth-generation district heating and cooling (5GDHC) systems. These are characterized by featuring a simultaneous supply of heating and cooling using power-to-heat technologies.

Key trends shaping district heating in Sweden

Central to district heating in Sweden has been a redefinition of what modern district heating means. 

Today, district heating not only involves a centralized system for distributing heat energy generated at a single location to multiple buildings: this conventional notion has been enhanced by the focus on energy efficiency, heat recycling and renewable heat. Particularly when these systems are coupled with heat pumps, thus transitioning towards sustainable district heating.

On the one hand, district heating systems use centralized heat generation facilities that can often employ highly efficient and modern technologies. These facilities can achieve economies of scale and use advanced equipment, leading to better energy efficiency compared to individual heating systems in buildings.

On the other hand, this is enhanced by the utilization of Low-Grade Heat Sources. District heating systems can harness low-grade or waste heat sources (such as industrial waste heat, geothermal heat, or excess heat from power generation). While these heat sources might not be cost-effective for individual buildings, they can be efficiently incorporated into district heating systems. 

When considering the wider landscape in district heating in Sweden, it is worth noting the country has been particularly successful in implementing combined heat and power plants (CHP).  At these plants, electricity and heat are produced at the same place (for instance, at a waste incineration plant) so that more than 90% of the energy in the fuels is employed. 

Another key characteristic of district heating in Sweden is the high share of biomass as an energy source. This can be traced back to the country’s extensive forestry industry

However, as the country looks into optimizing sustainability of their district heating network, a move towards the energy efficiency of heat pumps can be foreseen.

Heat pumps are inherently energy-efficient devices that can amplify the available heat by extracting heat from the environment (e.g., air, water, or ground) and increasing its temperature for space heating. This means that, when heat pumps are integrated into a district heating system, they can further boost the temperature of the supplied heat, allowing for more efficient use of lower-temperature heat sources.

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Heat pumps, when properly designed and operated, can efficiently provide most of the required heat for a building. An added benefit of this approach is that it reduces the need for backup heating systems, which may run on fossil fuels and be less energy-efficient.

Additionally, by integrating heat pumps within district heating in Sweden, the country moves towards an even bigger integration of low-carbon or renewable heat sources, further contributing to lower greenhouse gas emissions and improved sustainability.

At Araner, we’re at the forefront of sustainable, cost-efficient district heating solutions. As such, we help operators envision and implement innovative systems that ensure district heating in Sweden and beyond continues its path towards sustainability.  Get in touch with us and speak to our team about how we can help you.

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