The breadth and coverage of analytical expertise in the IEA Technology Collaboration Programmes (TCPs) are unique assets that underpin IEA efforts to support innovation for energy security, economic growth and environmental protection. The 39 TCPs operating today involve about 6 000 experts from government, industry and research organisations in more than 50 countries1.

District Heating and Cooling including Combined Heat and Power (DHC TCP)


Assessing emissions from district heating and cooling

The DHC TCP conducts unique international research that covers all areas of district heating and cooling (DHC) networks and combined heat and power (CHP). Accounting for national GHG emissions requires tools to calculate emissions from the various energy systems. The Universal Calculation Model enables decision makers to accurately assess energy consumption and emissions from DHC systems. 

Methods to account for emissions from DHC systems need to be accurate and comprehensive.*

In 2013, energy consumption in the buildings sector accounted for 39% of the European Union’s total energy consumption.** In support of the European objectives on energy efficiency, the EU Directive 2010/31/EU states that member states shall adopt, either at national or regional level, a methodology for calculating the energy performance of buildings. A number of methodologies have been derived to calculate the energy consumption in buildings.

However, the evaluation becomes more complex when energy for heating and cooling is produced offsite and delivered by a complex DHC network. Defining, allocating and calculating the energy use in district heating and cooling systems can have a significant impact on the GHG emissions that are reported. Other current evaluation methods follow a more general approach which does not enable precise results for each individual DHC network.

For these reasons, the DHC TCP funded the development of a transparent method for precisely calculating primary energy factors, primary energy use and CO2 emissions from complex DHC systems including those integrating CHP, the universal calculation model (UCM). UCM users enter the annual heat and/or cooling need and the type of fuel that will be used. The energy consumed, the electricity produced and the resulting GHG emissions and energy indicators of the DHC systems are then calculated automatically for each process in the DHC distribution system. Special characteristics of the UCM are that it enables calculation of the total emissions and comparison of different assessment methodologies (allocation method). The choice of the allocation method can have a major impact on the results of energy and emissions calculations.

At national level, the total GHG emissions and energy consumption reflect the different systems in the country including DHC and CHP. UCM enables decision makers to make better informed decisions on the method used based on accurate calculations.

For example, for a given CHP plant, the GHG emissions and the primary energy demand of heat from district heating can vary by more than a factor of two, depending on the allocation method. In addition, if all elements of a system are not accounted for, the emissions will not be representative of the DHC system. Therefore the potential impact of the allocation method used can be significant. In addition, if all elements of a system are not accounted for, the emissions will not be representative. UCM enables its users to perform a comprehensive assessment and quickly visualise the effects of system parameter choices.

In summary, the UCM enables decision-makers to accurately assess the energy consumption and GHG emissions from DHC systems and to compare the impact of different allocation methods. This information is important in building accurate national GHG accountings. Some of these conclusions have been compiled in the UCM final summary report Universal Calculation Model Tool. The software and the report are available for free after registration and login on the DHC TCP website.

* Graphic adapted from information provided by the DHC TCP
** IEA, Paris (2015), World Energy Balances (database) 


  • Optimising urban forms of district energy
  • Roadmap: high- to low-temperature DH systems
  • Strategic decision-making processes for DH
  • User-centred approaches to DH management


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Contracting Parties  9 -  -
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