IDEA Briefing Proceedings

Briefing on Capitol Hill—"Energy Efficient Infrastructure for More Resilient Local Economies: The Role of District Energy, CHP, and Microgrids," May 9, 2013


On May 8, 2013, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a Congressional briefing in Washington D.C., "Energy Efficient Infrastructure for More Resilient Local Economies: The Role of District Energy, CHP, and Microgrids." Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) and members of the International District Energy Association (IDEA) explained how District Energy, Combined Heat and Power (CHP) and Microgrids can make local energy supply more reliable and more resilient in the face of more frequent severe weather events that have caused electricity supply disruptions and serious economic losses.


 Speakers (l-r): Senator Al Franken, Robert Thornton, Ted Borer, William DiCroce, Ken Smith, and Mark Spurr.

Speakers (l-r): Senator Al Franken, Robert Thornton, Ted Borer, William DiCroce, Ken Smith, and Mark Spurr.


The briefing provided a technology overview, showcased relevant case studies, reviewed related pending legislation, including The Local Energy Supply & Resiliency Act of 2013 and The Master Limited Partnerships Parity Act, and discussed key policy drivers to accelerate industry growth as called for in Executive Order 13624, Accelerating Investment in Industrial Energy Efficiency.

The speakers-Robert Thornton, President & CEO of IDEA; Ted Borer, Energy Plant Manager at Princeton University; William DiCroce, President of Veolia Energy North America; Ken Smith, President & CEO of District Energy St. Paul; and Mark Spurr, Legislative Director of IDEA and President of FVB Energy Inc.-discussed how facilities served by District Energy, CHP and Microgrids provided critical energy security during Superstorm Sandy, with Princeton University as a case in point. Veolia Energy is recovering waste heat from the Charles River to produce a win/win/win for the Boston economy and environment. Minnesota's common sense legislation to encourage energy efficiency and reduce waste was also discussed.

District energy systems distribute thermal energy (steam, hot water, and/or chilled water) through a network of underground pipes to multiple buildings in an area, such as a downtown district, college or hospital campus. By aggregating the heating and air conditioning supply for multiple buildings, district energy systems optimize thermal energy efficiency. In addition, they are able to use surplus heat from power plants, industrial processes and local renewable sources that cut emissions, reduce energy consumption and strengthen local economies. Combined heat and power (CHP) refers to facilities that simultaneously generate electricity and useful heat, thereby achieving very high efficiencies that can be more than 80 percent. Microgrids are robust electricity networks that can be operated in parallel with, or independently of, the utility grid. These three technologies complement each other and can be implemented together, optimizing the whole energy system.



Source (EESI)....

Briefing on Capitol Hill—"District Energy: Essential Infrastructure for Energy-Efficient Communities," September 23, 2011

On September 23, 2011, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C., on an under-appreciated yet essential part of many communities' infrastructure: district energy.


Although federal energy policy has tended to focus on electricity and transportation fuels, thermal energy is equally important. According to a May 2011 report by the International Energy Agency, heat represents 37 percent of final energy consumption in OECD countries and 47 percent globally. There are currently more than 700 district energy systems in the United States (including at least one system in every state), but there are many appropriate locations without district energy and hundreds more with expansion potential.

At this briefing, district energy experts provided an overview of the technology and discussed case studies where district energy reduced operating costs, created jobs, strengthened grid reliability, reduced emissions, and converted waste streams into useful thermal energy.

Speakers & presentations:

  • Robert Thornton, President & CEO, International District Energy Association Presentation
  • Steven Lee, Senior Energy Analyst, International Energy Agency Presentation
  • Stephen Swinson, President & CEO, Thermal Energy Corporation, Houston, TX Presentation
  • William DiCroce, Chief Operating Officer, Veolia Energy North America, Boston, MA Presentation
  • Steven White, Chairman, Detroit Renewable Energy, Detroit, MI Presentation

Highlights from Speaker Presentations

  • Over 740 district energy systems are operating in the United States in most major metropolitan areas and on many college campuses.
  • District energy systems are often connected to combined heat and power (CHP) plants, which can be up to 80 percent efficient at converting fuel to useable energy. By comparison, conventional power plants are around 33 percent efficient at converting fuel into power; 2/3 of the fuel is wasted as heat vented through cooling towers or released into rivers, lakes, and oceans.
  • In 1973, Denmark's energy supply was 99 percent reliant on imported oil. In response to the oil crises of that decade, the nation invested heavily in district energy, CHP, and renewable energy - and transformed itself into a net energy exporter.
  • The Thermal Energy Corporation (TECO) in Houston operates the district energy system for the Texas Medical Center, the largest medical center in the world. The TECO system was recently converted to unite a district energy system with CHP, increasing overall efficiency from 42 percent to 80 percent while saving a projected $200 million over 15 years. Due to increases in efficiency during its first year of operation, $9 million in collected costs were returned to the 18 not-for-profit health care institutions that are TECO's customers.
  • TECO produces 100 percent of its electrical requirements on site, reducing grid demand and ensuring reliable energy for the medical center even if the grid experiences brownouts or blackouts. This was particularly important over the summer when Texas experienced unprecedented heat and set numerous records for electricity demand.
  • In 2005, Veolia Energy took over a Cambridge, Massachusetts, steam distribution network that was discharging its waste heat into the Charles River, damaging the aquatic ecosystem. Veolia Energy has started a project to integrate this steam into its district energy network that serves downtown Boston, resulting in zero heating discharge into the river.
  • Massachusetts has an Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard that recognizes the value of thermal energy (in addition to electricity). Utilities are required to buy one percent of their load from CHP, but the supply of CHP-generated power is scarce and has not kept up with this relatively modest demand.
  • Detroit's district energy system provides up to 70 percent savings to businesses in avoided in-house boiler, labor and maintenance costs.
  • Detroit's district energy/CHP system uses municipal solid waste (MSW) as its fuel source, providing a waste and energy production solution. Each ton of processed MSW eliminates the need for a barrel of oil.
  • Several presenters expressed their desire for a U.S. infrastructure bank to help attract private capital for district energy updates and expansions. District energy and CHP are attractive investing options because they are fixed assets and revenue streams.
  • Another option that would stimulate development of district energy and CHP is a policy requiring a certain level of efficiency from power generation, similar to how the federal government requires fuel efficiency for vehicles.

Handouts and reports mentioned at the briefing


Audio recording of briefing and Q&A (mp3)           • Video recording of briefing

For more information, contact Laura Parsons at lparsons@eesi.org or (202) 662-1884.

"Shaping a Low-Carbon World: Lessons from Nordic Countries," October 21, 2010

October 21, 2010, Washington, D.C.—The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the Nordic Council held a briefing examining how and why Nordic countries have achieved global leadership in low-carbon technologies and strengthened their economic competitiveness. More information, including video/audio recordings.

"District Energy: America's Best-Kept Secret for Clean, Affordable, Homegrown Energy," September 16, 2010

September 16, 2010, Washington, D.C.— IDEA presented two briefings on District Energy on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC to inform congressional leaders and staff on the valuable economic and environmental advantages of efficient district energy systems. The Thermal Renewable Energy and Efficiency Act ("TREEA") is bi-partisan legislation that will support expanded use of district energy in the United States.

Congressional Briefing Speakers 9-16-10

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) sponsored a briefing for House staff. Presentations were made by Rob Thornton, President, IDEA; Ken Smith, President & CEO, District Energy St. Paul; Mark Spurr, Legislative Director, IDEA and Dr. Neal Elliott, Associate Director for Research, American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

In the afternoon, the office of Senator Al Franken (D-MN), sponsored a Briefing for the Senate entitled "District Energy: How We Can Tap Renewable Thermal and Waste Heat" that was organized by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). 

"The Role of District Energy/Combined Heat and Power in Energy and Climate Policy Solutions," April 21, 2009

April 21, 2009, US House of Representatives, 2318 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C. — The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing to discuss how district energy systems are able to utilize combined heat and power (CHP) as well as renewable and surplus heat resources and the enormous potential for such projects across the country. The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently cited district energy/CHP as a "key near term strategy for cutting carbon emissions."

This briefing explored how urban systems and university campuses are currently operating highly efficient district energy/CHP systems to control operating costs, enhance reliability and reduce community greenhouse gas emissions. The panel also discussed pending energy and climate legislation and its potential impact on the district energy/CHP industry, as well as existing policies intended to support development of district energy/CHP systems, including Sections 471 and 451 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA).

Speakers for this event included:

More Information

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