Wien Energie pushes big investments into district heating

Wien Energie pushes big investments into district heating Votive church tower, Vienna, Austria (source: flickr/ Herr P., creative commons)
Alexander Richter 12 May 2022

City of Vienna/ Austria's local utility Wien Energie is pushing big investment program and points to plans to kick off first geothermal project off this year.

In a release last week, the city utility of Austria’s capital of Vienna, Wien Energie, announced that it will invest EUR 1 billion in the gas phase-out over the next five years. With massive investments in geothermal energy, large heat pumps and the expansion of photovoltaics and wind power, Austria’s largest energy service provider wants to gradually end its dependence on fossil fuels. “Only investments will get us out of the crisis. Wien Energie will spend EUR 1 billion for the gas phase-out in the coming years. We are completely restructuring the Vienna energy system: every euro we put our hands on today brings the people of Vienna Viennese long-term independence, climate protection and price stability,” says Michael Strebl, Chairman of the Wien Energie Management Board, on the occasion of the 2021 annual balance sheet.

“We are in a difficult economic situation. Wholesale prices have risen to record levels across Europe in recent months and unfortunately there is no sign of the situation easing. This is having a massive impact on us at Wien Energie in terms of procurement and generation. It is therefore important that we operate particularly prudently. Security of supply has top priority, but we also need stability in order to be able to make investments in the future,” says Strebl.In total, Wien Energie wants to invest EUR 1.29 billion by 2027. Of this, EUR 625 million will go to heating projects, EUR 334 millions to the expansion of renewable electricity generation, EUR 90 million to environmentally friendly cooling, EUR 160 million to digitization, electromobility and telecommunications and a further EUR 90 million to security of supply.

In its release the company speaks about its further push of solar PV and wind power, but also points to heat. describing district heating as a key element going forward.

Out of gas: District heating plays a key role in climate neutrality in 2040

District heating also plays a key role in the decarbonization of the city. By 2040, 56 percent of Vienna’s heat requirements are to be covered by district heating. In 2021, district heating sales rose by almost 7 percent to 6,373.4 GW hours, which was primarily due to the lower outside temperature, but also to additional connections.

Since January 2021, more than 15,000 apartments and 120 major customers such as public buildings and businesses have been connected to district heating. Wien Energie also places a strong focus on the development of district solutions. “In order for us to achieve the heat transition, we have to think in terms of district and district solutions. Where can we use which local resources in the best possible way? In the village in the third district, we are developing Austria’s first climate protection district together with ARE.

The increasing expansion of alternative generation systems can also be seen in the heat generation: The heat production from geothermal and ambient energy was increased by 73 percent – above all through the use of the large Simmering heat pump. In total, 23.6 percent of district heating came from renewable sources. A few weeks ago, the company started building the largest heat pump in Europe. “The goal is clear: by 2040, district heating must be 100 percent climate-neutral. In less than ten years, we want to cover more than half of heat generation from renewable sources.

Our greatest hope is geothermal energy,” says Gruber. The first geothermal energy implementation project is to be launched this year.

There can be no energy transition without specialists and research

One of the biggest challenges on the way to climate neutrality is human resources. The company currently has 2,179 employees (full-time equivalents). Almost half of the workforce at Wien Energie will retire in the next ten years. “In the future, we will be increasingly looking for skilled workers: from photovoltaic developers to power plant foremen, from heating system technicians to mechatronics technicians. More than 200 green jobs are waiting for competent and committed people who want to promote climate protection with us. That’s why we’re putting our faith in it on training programs in the company and are currently building a new apprenticeship center in Donaustadt,” says Karl Gruber.

Political framework for successful system change

In order to achieve climate neutrality by 2040, Wien Energie is calling for speed with the legal framework such as the Renewable Heat Act and acceleration of the EIA procedures. “We are ready, we have a plan. In order to be even faster, however, we also need the right framework conditions and the acceptance of the population for this major transformation. If we continue to need ten years from the submission to the start of construction of a wind farm, we will can’t make the system change,” concludes Michael Strebl.

Source: Wien Energie