Abstract This paper argues that Sweden’s old and established district heating sector is heading into a stagnation phase. The aim is to analyse the factors influencing this development as well as the strategies used by involved parties to prevent stagnation. Using large technical system theory, I analyse internal and external factors potentially causing stagnation. The most obvious external factors are: an increase in the number of energy-efficient buildings, in response to stricter energy policies, which reduces the future potential for district heating in new and existing buildings; climate change; competition from other heating systems; and market saturation in the key sector, multi-dwelling buildings. The main internal factor is changed business strategies following electricity market deregulation, when energy companies were supposed to be run on businesslike terms. I also argue that stagnation can be defined as occurring when the key measure feature of a system, in this case, heat load is starting to stagnate or decline, even though the trend is positive in other areas. The strategies for avoiding stagnation are various forms of broadening scope, primarily by focusing more on electricity production by building combined heat and power plants, or using the alternative value of the technical system for new applications.