Chair's Update 4th Quarter 2017

By Chris Lyons posted 10-23-2017 10:51


This is an exciting time to be in the energy industry. The pace of change is accelerating as new technologies arise to meet the challenges of a growing global population and mitigate the impacts of climate change. In the last decade alone, we’ve seen exponential increases in the deployment of new energy technologies. Consider these examples: Total global installed wind capacity has increased from 74 GW in 2006 to 486 GW in 2016, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. The International Energy Agency reports that the total number of plug-in electric vehicles worldwide has skyrocketed from a few thousand in 2006 to more than 2 million in 2016. The IEA also reports that the total annual extraction of shale gas in the U.S. has jumped from about 2 million cu ft in 2007 to more than 15 million cu ft in 2016, leading to a dramatic decrease in natural gas prices that is prompting many utilities to shift from coal to natural gas. There’s no indication that this wave of market disruptions will end anytime soon.

While developments like the above tend to grab headlines, the accomplishments and opportunities in our industry are no less compelling. On Nov. 6-8, IDEA will join forces with the Microgrid Resources Coalition and Microgrid Knowledge to present Microgrid 2017, a three-day conference focused on practical, real-world microgrid solutions. U.S. microgrid capacity is projected to reach 4.3 GW by 2020, with a worldwide market of $35 billion by 2020, according to Microgrid Knowledge. What’s more, U.S. microgrids tend to rely heavily on combined heat and power and reciprocating engine generators, proven technologies familiar to the district energy industry. Therein lies an enormous opportunity for IDEA members to apply our expertise to enhance the efficiency, resiliency and reliability of our nation’s electrical systems in cities and on campuses. As one example, Solar Turbines just released a new energy storage design with a microgrid control feature. Our goal is to optimize the use and sharing of these systems while at the same time optimizing deployment based on real-time pricing.

One of the hallmarks of our industry is that we do not represent a single solution to the energy needs of our communities. Just look around North America to see the regional variety of district energy/CHP assets: biomass-fueled CHP at the University of British Columbia, highly efficient gas-fired CHP at UT Austin, geothermal heating at Ball State University, deep lake water cooling at Cornell University, campus microgrid at Princeton and other solutions that capitalize on local resources. And if you need further proof of the lifesaving resiliency benefits of district energy/CHP, look no further than Houston, Texas, where our friends at Thermal Energy Corp. kept the heating and cooling on at the Texas Medical Center during the record-breaking deluge unleashed by Hurricane Harvey. 

As energy professionals, we can lead the way in showing – through real-life experiences – the best way to power, heat and cool critical care facilities, research centers, schools, offices and residences. As an international association, we must be a catalyst for integrating district energy/CHP/ microgrids into the infrastructure of our local communities. Most important, we need to demonstrate to campus and municipal leaders that the greatest impact will be achieved when we treat energy production and distribution as an integrated system rather than a series of separate utilities. 

I hope you’ll join me in Boston for Micro-grid 2017 Nov. 6-8, 2017, where you can engage with experts in the microgrid space and tour the energy facilities at Harvard University, the Medical Area Total Energy Plant, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Veolia’s Kendall Station. Then, make plans to be in Baltimore March 5-9 for CampusEnergy2018. In the meantime, I encourage you to leverage the vast expertise of the IDEA community as you reach out to your own communities to demonstrate our theme for this year: “District Energy/CHP: Local Solution, Global Impact.”