Towards low-carbon district heating: Investigating the socio-technical challenges of the urban energy transition

Francesco Reda, Salvatore Ruggiero, Karoliina Auvinen, Armi Temmes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
150 Downloads (Pure)


District heating is a major energy infrastructure in many urban settlements in the world, contributing significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. Decarbonising district heating is an important step towards the realisation of a carbon-neutral society that entails considerable socio-technical change. Building on sustainability transitions literature that has dealt with socio-technical reconfiguration, this paper investigates the barriers to the implementation of a low-carbon district heating system that is based on biomass incineration minimisation and the total phasing out of fossil fuels. Empirically, the study relies on an extensive stakeholder analysis that involved 44 organisations representing technology providers, energy companies, industry organisations, policymakers, local authorities and researchers. The results show that while several stakeholder groups could converge on key issues such as the need to support certain technological niches and the danger of a biomass lock-in, divergences regarding barriers to be removed existed between policymakers, new entrant firms, and building owners. Cities were considered important actors for the implementation of the proposed low-carbon district heating concept. However, they should encourage building owners' participation in demand response schemes, decentralized renewable energy production, and the re-design of local electricity networks to support district heating electrification.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100054
JournalSmart Energy
Early online date2021
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2021
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Energy transition
  • Socio-technical change
  • Multi-regime interaction
  • Sector coupling


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