The Environmental Benefits of District Steam Heating

As we saw in December’s blog post, Feel the Heat, U-Haul has rehabilitated the NBC Building’s existing steam heating system. This district steam heating system receives steam from a network of steam tunnels beneath the streets of Downtown, Midtown and New Center operated by Detroit Thermal, Inc.

District Heating

Detroit Thermal generates steam at its Downtown plant using a waste-to-energy conversion system, a source of energy that the Environmental Protection Agency classifies as renewable. Most of the 80,000 football fans that come to Ford Field to see the Lions play on Sundays have no idea that the heat for nearly 150 buildings in Central Detroit is being generated just a block away.

When the first portion of the system was built 110 year ago, coal was the fuel of choice for steam generation, but as the system has expanded over the decades, it has converted to cleaner fuel sources several times. The current waste-to-energy system keeps 3,300 tons of municipal solid waste out of landfills each day.

A 2011 study conducted on the district steam heating system of Copenhagen, Denmark, by research agency New York City Global Partners, found that using district heating to warm a building resulted in 40% lower CO2 emissions than using an on-site gas boiler, and 50% lower CO2 emissions than using an on-site oil boiler.

CO2 (carbon dioxide) is an important greenhouse gas and a contributor to global climate change. Relative to other heating methods, our steam heating system will dramatically lower our carbon footprint each year when the weather gets cold.

 What do you think of District Steam Heating? Tell us in the comments below! 

Joseph Tangari


Joseph Tangari, our new research assistant in Detroit. Joe is a five-star master-degree graduate student in the Department of Urban Studies at Wayne State University.

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