Warsaw’s district heating systemxliii dates back to early 1950s when the 1,720 km long network (the largest of its kind in Europe), covering close to 80% of Warsaw’s heat demand, was built. Connecting Warsaw’s main public buildings (e.g. Parliament, presidential palace) and the city’s high-rise blocks of flats, the district heating network has been providing an affordable and more comfortable alternative to the low-tech coal-based and often filterless home stoves still widespread in Poland. Thanks to continuous improvements, in 2009, 90% of the energy produced in the system was from cogeneration, providing up to 30% fuel consumption and CO2 emissions reduction. However, in 2013, the main source of greenhouse gas emissions in Warsaw was still the energy sector (78% of total emissions). The already developed district heating system thus offered a great potential for additional emissions reduction through fuel switching.


Spurred by joining the Covenant of Mayors in 2009 and publishing its “Sustainable Energy Action Plan for Warsaw in the perspective of 2020”xliv in 2011, Warsaw started to diversify the fuel sources of its district heating system to include low-carbon sources, retrofit and modernize the system, and support electricity and heat consumption reduction (e.g. by installing individual household meters, refurbishing buildings and creating innovative private-public partnerships). It plans to supply about 50% of the heat from gas, biomass and waste-to- heat sources. Partnership with the private sector and privatization of the network in 2012 (sold to Dalkia, then in 2014 to Veolia) allowed Warsaw to guarantee future investments, while keeping the district heating prices low and attractive to customers (with the lowest prices in Poland). In 2013, Warsaw opened its Czajka Waste Water Treatment Plantxlv, which now ensures treatment of 100% of the wastewater of Warsaw and produces heat from biogas and sludge and generates electricity for half of street lighting in the City. Warsaw also continues to expand the district heating network, for instance through district heating connections of new revitalization projects (e.g. 2015-2022 revitalization programme of the Praga district with total investment of 130 million euro).

Reasons for success

Driven by international commitments, Warsaw managed to exploit the potential of the existing district heating network infrastructure, driving down the costs of conversion to low-carbon energies. Privatising the network, while keeping a degree of oversight, also helped the City of Warsaw expand the network in a cost-effective manner and guarantee investments for continuing the conversion to low-carbon energy sources.

When/why a city might apply an approach like this

A city with a legacy steam heating system might adopt this approach to leverage past infrastructure investments and help achieve CO2 reductions more quickly, efficiently and at a lower cost. If the city has a number of smaller legacy steam networks, their interconnections can be exploited to allow for greater integration of low-carbon sources. 

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  • Economic
Key Impact
Plans to supply about 50% of the heat from gas, biomass and waste-to-heat sources
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