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IDEA Briefing Proceedings

Briefing on Capitol Hill, Dirksen Senate Office Building: "District Energy, CHP, Microgrids: Resilient, Efficient Energy Infrastructure" — Dec. 6, 2016

See also the EESI website for further information.

Summary:

The International District Energy Association (IDEA), the Microgrid Resources Coalition (MRC), and the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held this briefing providing policy guidance and showcasing proven technologies and exemplary cases that illuminate the potential for more robust U.S. investment in district energy microgrids.

Cities, communities and campuses throughout the nation are actively seeking more resilient, sustainable energy infrastructure to support economic growth and achieve environmental objectives. District energy microgrids incorporate combined heat and power (CHP) to deliver greater energy efficiency and optimize the use of local resources while strengthening the local and regional power grids.

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. Moreover, they can use surplus heat from power plants, industrial processes and local renewable sources to 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-more than 80 percent in many cases. 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 and creating much greater resilience, which is especially important when extreme weather events occur.

 

left to right: Rob Thornton, Ted Borer, Michael Rooney, Jim Lodge, Carol Werner
left to right: Rob Thornton, Ted Borer, Michael Rooney, Jim Lodge, Carol Werner

1. Rob Thornton, President & CEO, International District Energy Association

  • U.S. power plants, on their best days, are only about 32 percent efficient. One third of their output is usable energy (in the form of electricity) while the other two-thirds is lost as heat. This means there is an incredible opportunity for growth of district energy by capturing the waste heat and greatly improving the efficiency of the system.
  • In fact, the waste heat from U.S. power plants is greater than the total energy used in 197 different countries around the world.
  • Cities are not only embracing renewable energy, they are also becoming more open towards local power plants. When a power plant is located near its end users, it opens the door for opportunities to use the heat emitted when power is generated.
  • The beauty of the district energy system is that it essentially establishes an underground thermal network that connects multiple buildings and allows them to incorporate energy technologies that would normally not be feasible on an individual scale.
    • For example, 99 percent of the buildings in Copenhagen, Denmark, don't have boilers. They get heat from a district heating network.
    • The city of Toronto actually uses a thermal network to cool the city.
  • By combining cooling, heating, and electrical power, we can dramatically improve the efficiency of our energy systems in the United States. Thermal networks allow cities to improve energy efficiencies from 30/40 percent to 70/80 percent.
  • We are now seeing natural drivers that demonstrate the need for resilient electricity systems like microgrids. Extreme weather events, droughts, and wildfires pose challenges to the electricity industry. These events expose the fact that a lot of America's energy infrastructure is out-of-date and in need of renewal.
  • Superstorm Sandy was a huge galvanizing moment for the Northeast.
    • Over 8 million homes lost power, causing more than $70 billion in lost business.
    • Some district energy systems were able to stand up to Sandy.
      • For example, the 40 MW co-gen plant in Co-Op City in the Bronx not only maintained power, it also helped Con-Ed (the local utility) restart its grid.
      • Princeton University's energy system also stayed on through Sandy (and Hurricane Irene), allowing it to save its critical research and be a hub for the community.
  • It's hard to ensure a city will keep its power on if its power plant is 100 miles away. Cities want local power plants similar to what Princeton University has, which leads to:
    • Greater efficiency.
    • Greater resiliency.
    • Systems that can integrate with intermittent renewables like wind and solar.
    • The ability to tap into local energy supplies, which can boost local economies.
    • A reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Mayors and governors in the states affected by Superstorm Sandy have realized that they cannot proceed as usual. This has led to state policies that support technologies like district energy.
  • Many states will proceed with making their power generation cleaner and more resilient, with or without the Clean Power Plan. In fact, over 290 district energy systems in the United States have already done the hard work (installing a thermal network) and just need to add cogeneration to their systems.

2. Ted Borer, Energy Plant Manager, Princeton University

  • District energy is not a red issue or blue issue. Both sides are interested in energy savings and increasing energy efficiency.
  • Highly-integrated microgrid systems exist today, and Princeton is just one example of what you can do with a microgrid system. To give a sense of scale, Princeton University has 180 buildings, including dormitories, administration buildings, athletic facilities, and classrooms.
  • What can we do with microgrids?
    • In the event that the power grid fails, microgrid systems can operate autonomously, protecting users from losing access to power.
    • Communities without microgrids can benefit just by being in the proximity of a microgrid. For example, first responders in Superstorm Sandy were able to benefit from Princeton's microgrid to recharge their electronic devices before returning to other surrounding communities-key for public safety communications.
  • Having a central power plant at Princeton makes it possible to centralize all the potential problems locally and allows for a simpler approach towards addressing issues. This costs more upfront but reduces cost throughout the lifecycle of the power plant.
  • Combined heat and power (CHP) is also known as cogeneration. Cogeneration efficiency hovers around 70 percent, but can sometimes reach up to 90 percent. Princeton's gas turbine on its own is only around 34 percent efficient, but CHP dramatically improves that efficiency.
  • Princeton's Economic Dispatch System is one thing that largely separates Princeton from much of the district energy crowd. The system allows the university to collect data to fully understand its energy needs. The data feeds into a 24-hour forward prediction model, which gives the university the ability to predict the community's energy demand in advance, and forecast the cheapest times to buy (rather than generate) electricity.
  • Microgrids make the entire grid more resilient by making the network less vulnerable to outages and weak spots. They also reduce the need for spare capacity, which is often simply idle.

3. Michael Rooney, Manager of District Energy Initiatives, University of Pittsburgh Center for Energy

  • Why does district energy matter?
    1. It creates economic development and benefits for the people who live in the local community.
    2. It creates resilience at a community level.
    3. It gives communities the ability to build resilience by addressing infrastructure.
  • The City of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh recently began to look at opportunities for investment in energy and wanted to collaborate to become a leader in energy systems. This led to the District Energy Pittsburgh Initiative. The goals of this partnership were to:
    1. Modernize existing systems for the future.
    2. Identify new opportunities for microgrids, CHP, and district systems.
    3. Bring these groups together to deploy new technologies.
    4. Focus on workforce, resiliency, reliability, security, and economics.
  • The grid of microgrids concept was developed by Pittsburgh. Microgrid districts throughout the city support buildings like hospitals and 911 call centers.
    • The goal is to create interconnections between the systems to promote business continuity.
    • There is also a socially-responsible component to the concept. The city wants to ensure it is positioned to support not only businesses, but also citizens in the event of extreme weather.
  • Why does energy infrastructure investment matter to Pittsburgh?
    • Resilience or the ability to bounce back from social, environmental, and economic stresses.
    • Reliability
    • Sustainability
    • Security
    • Economics
    • Workforce development
    • Opportunity

4. Jim Lodge, Vice President of NRG energy

  • Resilience, reliability, and sustainability are keys to making microgrids happen.
  • District energy systems can be feasible even in regulated states.
    • Arizona State University (ASU) is a sustainability-postured campus located in a regulated state. The campus boasts 16 MW of on-site solar, 6 MW of thermal storage, 8 MW of diesel generation, and is also powered by NRG's Sun Devil Energy Center CHP System.
    • The NRG CHP system is on site to help support the research laboratories in the event of a power failure [loss of power can be devastating to expensive research projects and scientific experiments].
  • The real challenge is integrating all the sources of energy and then optimizing the entire system so that supply balances demand.
    • If you can't make the economics work, many of these projects won't get off the ground.
    • Balancing intermittent energy technologies (like wind and solar) is not only the key, but also the challenge for systems to remain nimble.
  • The key components that will promote the growth of district energy, CHP, and microgrids are:
    • Recognizing and valuing the resiliency and reliability they provide.
    • Obtaining local support from stakeholders and champions.
    • Support from government and utilities.
    • Sustainability/efficiency drivers, the desire to integrate renewables and energy efficient technologies.
    • The right timing for deploying the technologies.
    • Economics/capital needed to make the project happen.
  • There are plenty of opportunities to develop new projects, but also opportunities to turn old projects into microgrids.

Speaker Slides

Learn more with these brief informational videos:

Contact

Other Downloads

  • Download audio file of briefing (MP3)
  • Archived briefing notice

  • 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.

    Recordings

    Presentations

    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.

    Background

    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

    Recordings

    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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