Alex Samuels reports in the Texas Tribune that in Marstal, Denmark, a concept known as district energy — a community-owned nonprofit solar heating plant — has encouraged a shift from fossil fuels. Environmentalists and energy efficiency advocates said they hope that state officials can take steps to encourage similar investments in the Lone Star state.
• Marstal’s project stores energy in an insulated tank that holds sun-heated water. The plant only generates heat — not electricity — but by meeting the town’s heating needs efficiently, it keeps a significant portion of the energy demand off of the electricity grid that stretches to Aero — the island Marstal is located on — where wind generates 120 percent of the island’s electricity demands.
• The plant is made possible through a concept called district energy, which involves heating hot water at a centralized source and sending it directly to homes through underground through pipes. As a result, Denmark has slashed carbon dioxide emissions by 37 percent since 1990. This concept is familiar in Texas, but homeowners rarely get the chance to share in the savings, partly because of a lack of incentives in the state’s competitive energy market.
• While environmentalists and energy efficiency advocates say they hope the Lone Star state can utilize district energy, the concept may not work as well in sprawling Texas communities. Also, the state doesn’t incentivize such projects because Texans buy energy from companies that compete with one another and don’t necessarily benefit when homeowners use less power.
• Some municipal utilities in Texas have dabbled with the concept, however. That includes Austin Energy, which delivers water chilled at two downtown cooling plants to 32 customers that have hooked up to its underground pipes. And in the coming legislative session, energy efficiency advocates will pitch legislation that they hope will help Texans overcome still-existing barriers to using less energy.