How geothermal energy could be easily integrated in district heating and cooling networks?


The EU is aiming to decarbonise the energy sector through some specific policies such as the «Clean Energy for all European» and the «European Green Deal». Direct delivery of heating/cooling to consumers via district heating and cooling (DHC) grids, is seen as an important option to allow the decarbonization of heating/cooling systems (Chicco et al., 2022). It is expected to gain acceptance and market uptake as it will provide a solution to partially replace the use of fossil fuels and to reduce the costs of heating and cooling. As reported by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA, 2022) the energy transition has become even more urgent in the last months, due to the continuous volatility of the energy prices.

The recent events linked to the current geopolitical situation have showcased that high fossil fuel prices, in the absence of alternatives, can result in energy poverty. Thus, the role of the policy makers is important, in order to create a supportive framework, which will help prove the system’s benefits as well as to initiate media campaigns encouraging consumer uptake.

Currently, a huge diversity exists on the legal framework amongst European countries, and this acts as a big barrier for the development of geothermal energy market, through ground source heat pumps (GSHP) and underground thermal energy storage (UTES) technologies in DHC networks. Therefore, a common approach at European level is needed moving towards a homogenization of the legal framework (Tsagarakis et al., 2020).

A detailed overview of the current legal aspects between different EU Countries, highlights the absence of an EU Directive explicitly referring to these technologies. Thus, legal, administrative, and technical issues are dictated by the respective National or Ministerial Laws or Regulations. This implies several differences in the development of these technologies, with some Nordic EU Countries having a great use of renewables and geothermal energy than those located in Southern Europe; this is mainly due to better green policies, which promote financial incentives and hence the market uptake.

Therefore, the legal framework has to serve the following main purposes:

·       protection of underground drinking water resources;

·       regulating competing uses and securing sustainable use of geothermal energy;

·       improving the administration and permitting procedures;

·       overhauling the plans, policies, fiscal regimes and energy sector structures that impede progress.

Another crucial aspect concerns the integration of economic and financial issues within a possible EU harmonized directive on DHC systems. In this regard, it is important to consider what is the economic impact of geothermal DHC systems on the energy costs for consumers and the economy as a whole, as the use of renewable sources for heating and cooling can lead to a reduction in energy costs in the long term.

Another aspect to consider is the need of incentives to promote investments in centralized heating and cooling technologies using renewable sources (García-Céspedes et al., 2023). This could include subsidies for the purchase of DHC systems that use geothermal energy and tax credits for companies investing in these technologies (Dolores et al., 2022).

In addition, specific financing policies could be introduced, such as favorable interest rate funding for centralized heating and cooling projects or the creation of funds for the development of better technologies.

Regarding the market of DHC systems involving underground thermal energy storage, it is important to develop a harmonized regulatory framework at the EU level to promote the market competitiveness of these technologies compared to traditional heating and cooling systems. This could involve the creation of common standards for the quality and safety of these systems and the promotion of certification programs to ensure the quality of these technologies.

Improving regulatory aspects could also promote greater incentives and social acceptance of these systems. For example, policies for educating and raising awareness among consumers about the benefits of heating and cooling technologies using renewable sources, such as reduced costs and positive environmental impact, could be introduced.

In general, an EU harmonized directive should therefore aim to promote investments in this renewable energy source, developing a harmonized regulatory framework to promote technological competitiveness and encourage social acceptance of DHC systems through consumer education and awareness policies.



Chicco, J.M., Antonijevic, D., Bloemendal, M, Cecinato, F, Goetzl, G., Hajto, M., Hartog, N., Mandrone, G., Vacha, D. (2022). Improving the Efficiency of District Heating and Cooling Using a Geothermal Technology: Underground Thermal Energy Storage (UTES). In: Calabrò, F., Della Spina, L., Piñeira Mantiñán, M.J. (eds) New Metropolitan Perspectives. NMP 2022. Lecture Notes in Networks and Systems, vol 482. Springer, Cham.

Dolores, L.; Macchiaroli, M.; De Mare, G. Financial Impacts of the Energy Transition in Housing. Sustainability 2022, 14, 4876.

García-Céspedes, J.; Herms, I.; Arnó, G.; de Felipe, J.J. Fifth-Generation District Heating and Cooling Networks Based on Shallow Geothermal Energy: A review and Possible Solutions for Mediterranean Europe. Energies 2023, 16, 147.

IRENA (2022). World Energy Transition. Outlook 2022, Incidence of selected policies on the distribution of socio-economic outcomes.

Tsagarakis,K. P., Efthymiou, L., Michopoulos, A., Mavragani, A., Anđelković, A.S., Antolini,F., Bacic, M., Bajare, D.,Baralis, M., Bogusz, W., Burlon, S., Figueira, J.,Genç, M. S., Javed, S., Jurelionis, A., Koca, K., Ryżyński, G., Urchueguia, J. F., Žlender, B. (2020). A review of the legal framework in shallow geothermal energy in selected European countries: Need for guidelines, Renewable Energy, 147 (2), 2556-2571,