World Bank Helps China Clean Up Its Act

China’s US$10 million district heating system upgrade will help to reduce pollution levels.
Published: Fri 05 Feb 2016

The World Bank is funding a project aimed at upgrading district heating in China’s northern Hebei province. The Hebei Clean Heating Project has been developed to modernise and expand existing district heating systems in the municipalities of Chengde, Xingtai and Zhangjiakou and across Pingshan county.

Among the planned measures are scaling up heat metering to encourage energy efficiency, effective harnessing of waste heat from power plants and industrial facilities, and looking to switch to gas-fueled systems where viable.  

‘The project will help the four heating companies use best practices in district heating and will generate practical experiences and lessons learned that will be shared in Hebei and other northern provinces in China, according to Yuriy Myroshnychenko, the World Bank's team leader for the project.

Pollution control

The project forms part of a larger engagement in energy efficiency and air pollution control in the Jing-Jin-Ji region [Bejiing, Tianjin and Hebei] where the World Bank Group is providing increased support, particularly in Hebei.

China is known to have dangerously high smog levels and the biggest contributors are industrial furnaces, district heating systems, residential fires and trucks rather than power plants. Industrial firms, heating plants and residential fires in the capital and neighbouring provinces consume 240 million tonnes of coal per year compared with about 130 million tonnes burned in power plants. Many factories in the region have inefficient boilers and furnaces, outdated equipment and few if any pollution controls. [China –To Clean Up its Act?]

Pollution is responsible for over half a million early deaths each year across China according to researchers at Tsinghua University. The problem is much worse in the north of the country, according to official data on air quality compiled by the National Bureau of Statistics.

Old district heating-a major polluter

Pollution from industry is made worse by emissions from thousands of district heating systems. Most of the heating for homes and offices in Beijing, Tianjin and the larger cities in Hebei is supplied by district heating systems, nearly all of which are fuelled by coal. In a typical system, coal is burned in a central furnace to heat water which is sent at high temperature through a system of large diameter pipes before being piped at lower temperatures into buildings.

A few systems have been updated to use modern combined heat and power plants (CHPs) that produce electricity as well as hot water but most still rely on older less efficient heat-only boilers (HOBs). The sector has been slow to modernise. In 2012, there were more than 2,700 district heating providers in Beijing alone. Most of these use old and inefficient equipment fitted with inadequate pollution controls so fly ash, particulates and oxides of sulphur and nitrogen are released into the air via the chimney.

Generally, customer bills are based on the size of the building rather than the amount of heat actually used so customers have no incentive to use heating efficiently.

Reducing pollution levels

With growing concerns about the health impact of escalating pollution levels, China's central government and the provincial administrations in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei have created a plan to cut pollution. The plan involves structural adjustments (designed to change the mix of industry in the area) and end-of-pipe controls (designed to cut emissions from processes that remain).

Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei all have plans to require power plants, heating plants and industrial users to fit more pollution control equipment. The World Bank is supporting the efforts to cut pollution with loans designed to upgrade district heating systems.

The Bank has already lent $100 million to help modernize the district heating system in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, and one of the most polluted cities in the country.

The Urumqi project is replacing hundreds of old small heat-only boilers with a small number of larger and more efficient combined heat and power systems.

Part of the Urumqi project is the installation of improved metering and control systems across the network that could eventually be used to bill customers based on the amount of heat they use rather than their floor space.

Last month, the Bank approved a similar $100 million project to upgrade district heating systems in Hebei in the cities of Chengde, Xingtai and Zhangjiakou, as well as Pingshan county. The project includes upgrading some boilers and converting others to gas, extensions to the pipeline network, and the installation of improved control systems and heat meters.

While consumption-based billing and incentives to cut energy use (as well as renewable energy) is probably the most sustainable route going forward, district heating upgrades will help improve environmental quality that much quicker in China.

Further reading

Clean Air Alliance of China-Can Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei achieve their PM2.5 Targets by 2017

World Bank-Enhancing the Institutional Model for District Heating Regulation

Tsinghua University -The true cost of coal