District Heating Systems

Immediately before I departed for Germany I read an article on Quora roughly titled, ‘Differences between European & American energy uses.‘  The list was IMHO largely flawed in that the items compared were symptoms, not underlying causes or collective energy values of the energy consumers, as I outlined below in “an answer” response.

district heating 1
“Water” meters inside a residence connected to district heating systems in many European cities.

This image here, from my apartment in Germany, sums up that difference in the energy consumer’s awareness right at home, or in this case ‘on the toilet‘ — where our days start and end, and where much “thinking” happens.

In America however, we need to go outside to read a meter at the service entry to our homes, or open a monthly bill to see our water, heat or electric consumption – another level of separation from our impacts on the global environment, especially our carbon intensity & energy consumption.

This may be “alien” to many US readers, but these are the water and “heat” meters inside a home or apartment connected to a district heating (often, but not always combined heat & power CHP) system in many European cities. The blue meter – no different than your water meter measuring quantity of water used.  However, the red meter measures not only volume of water consumed, but more importantly, how much heat is consumed both for heated water at the tap or shower head, as well as for the heat consumed at your radiator[s].  Each heat radiator has an electronic devise attached to it, which measures the heat in the radiator compared against heat (temp) in the room/air surface immediately next to it. How that works – to me is a modern mystery, however the data collected is then factored into the overall water-heat consumed and portioned accordingly to all other meters in the district heating or building – and a heat bill comes accordingly.

district heating 2
“Heat” Meters – A Modern Mystery

But back to my response as to why Americans use more energy than Europeans, the topic of the question in Quora….

Can I give you a far simpler answer – if the comparison is to be made. Germany is not an inherently energy secure country – they do not have access to all forms; oil, natural gas, hydro, etc., but do have coal in sunstantial, but not exhaustive quantities. This has been true for generations. And a main supplier, such as Russia often exerts political via nat gas. This has been experienced for geremations, and they have repeatedly gone to war over energy.

Contrast that with America, which for generations, energy of all forms has been nearly infinite, nearly inexhaustible and always (minus a few blips over history), has been cheap at the pocketbook metric. So cheap we pay more for bottled water per unit volume, and far less energy content, than for gasoline.

Now, some will argue, but the US is always going to war over oil (or energy). But that is false, we have gone to war for cheap or cheaper energy, but not for fuel stocks/resources themselves. And we haven’t gone into a war FOR energy, where every family lost a family member in that pursuit for energy, such is the case for many European countries, or Japan – domestic energy lacking, for that matter.

There’s very little ‘skin in the game’ for Americans, and this has been this way for generation. The same is not true in much of the rest of the world, that a) has access to energy & energy infrastructur, or b) those places that do not, i.e., emerging nations.

How do. you change a generation or a people that have no comprehension of expensive or scarce or both, energy? That’s the real question & conundrum America needs to ask itself.

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