On infrastructure investment, don't miss the forest for the trees

By District Energy posted 09-20-2017 13:04


Rob Thornton, Smart Cities Dive


Two visions for U.S. infrastructure investment have emerged, one proposed by President Donald Trump and one by Senate Democrats. They attempt to capitalize on bipartisan support and excitement generated during the presidential election. Both call for up to $1 trillion to modernize and build new infrastructure, adding millions of jobs in the process. They differ in amounts of direct federal spending, preferred investment mechanisms, and ownership of assets.

A discussion over methods is healthy; one can expect resolution as the administration and Congress work toward legislation. But before methods are agreed to and legislation introduced, parties must agree on a vision. A "smart" vision for the 21st century that features critical energy infrastructure. Such infrastructure is vital to an energy-enabled future with self-driving cars, automated manufacturing, the Internet of Things, more resilient cities and communities and much more.

Enter district energy, combined heat and power (CHP) and microgrids. District energy plants supply thermal energy to many nearby customer buildings, utilizing  economies of scale that allow connected customers to avoid capital costs and optimize their heating and cooling systems. CHP is an efficient, integrated approach to locally generate both electric power and useful thermal energy from a single fuel source. Microgrids go one step further by integrating these technologies into a local grid, allowing parallel operation and voluntary isolation from the larger power grid, especially during outages caused by severe weather. Furthermore, many mayors are now seeking opportunities to partner with private developers to create microgrids in order to strengthen resiliency and business continuity and attract economic development.

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