Abstract Energy supply companies and industrial plants are likely to face new situations due to, for example, the introduction of new energy legislation, increased fuel prices and increased environmental awareness. These new prerequisites provide companies with new challenges but also new possibilities from which to benefit. Increased energy efficiency within companies and increased cooperation between different operators are two alternatives to meet the new conditions. A region characterized by a high density of energy-intensive processes is used in this study to find the economic potential of connecting three industrial plants and four energy companies, within three local district heating systems, to a regional heat market, in which different operators provide heat to a joint district heating grid. Also, different investment alternatives are studied. The results show that the economical potential for a heat market amounts to between 5 and 26 million EUR/year with payback times ranging from two to eleven years. However, the investment costs and the net benefit for the total system need to be allotted to the different operators, as they benefit economically to different extents from the introduction of a heat market. It is also shown that the emissions of CO 2 from the joint system would decrease compared to separate operation of the systems. However, the valuation of CO 2 emissions from electricity production is important as the difference of emitted CO 2 between the accounting methods exceeds 650 kton/year for some scenarios.