Sunday, August 08, 2010

A technology and culture case study:

According to Wikipedia, district heating is a system for distributing heat generated in a centralized location for residential and commercial heating requirements such as space heating and water heating. Countries differ greatly in the degree to which district heating is used versus individual building or household heating.

District heating has a long history. It is especially efficient where there is an appropriate, low cost source of concentrated energy such as waste heat from an electric power plant or a geothermal energy source. Even without such sources, however, district heating can ofter provide area and water heating at lower cost that individual heating.

There is a ratchet effect in the choice between individual or district heating. If a community initially makes the investment in one or the other form, then it is hard to justify a new investment to replace the existing system.

Sweden is known for wide spread use of district heating, while the United State tends to use individual heating, even in the urban areas with cold winters. It has been suggested that the difference is related to the cultural preference of Americans for individual control and of Scandinavians for community based solutions (Think of Swedish socialism versus U.S. rejection of socialism).

Russia installed district heating systems widely during the Communist period, but is thought to be moving away from them. Apparently with the fall of Communism it became socially difficult to maintain the communal systems, and their users are finding shortfalls of service. One might see the difference between sustainability in the Communist era and failures of maintenance and service in the post-Communist era as a result of the cultural changes that occurred with the fall of Communism.

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