The future of urban sustainability is renewable district energy

By District Energy posted 07-14-2017 10:52


Rohit T. Aggarwala, Sidewalk Labs
June 29, 2017


It’s well understood that in most U.S. cities, the largest area of energy consumption is in buildings, which is one reason that energy efficiency and renewable electricity have received so much attention. But few cities have their own municipal power companies; most have little control over the emissions profile of the electricity they consume, as generation is controlled by state-regulated utilities or independent power producers. When that mix relies heavily on fossil fuels, as remains too often the case, a city’s climate goals become that much harder to reach.

But the focus on electricity ignores what is actually the largest single use of energy in buildings: heating and cooling. Air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter can account for up to half of city energy consumption. While most American buildings currently either tap the electric grid for cooling or burn oil or gas in their basements for heat, that doesn’t have to be the case: district thermal systems can provide heat and cool directly. And they offer a way for American cities to take greater charge of their emission reduction goals.

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