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Clearway Energy Center San Francisco Receives 2019 IDEA Innovation Award

By District Energy posted 07-03-2019 12:04

Gordon Judd from Clearway Energy Center San Francisco (middle) receives IDEA's 2019 Innovation Award from IDEA President Rob Thornton (right) and Bob Smith, RMF Engineering (left) at IDEA's 110th Annual Conference & Trade Show on June 26th in Pittsburgh, PA.

Clearway Energy Center San Francisco Receives 2019 IDEA Innovation Award

Recognizing outstanding innovations in district energy at 110th Annual Conference

 The International District Energy Association (IDEA) has recognized Clearway Energy, Energy Center in San Francisco with the 2019 IDEA Innovation Award for its BART water reclamation project and well. Gordon Judd, General Manager of Energy Center San Francisco accepted the award on behalf of Clearway Energy at the 110th Annual IDEA Conference and Trade Show in Pittsburgh, PA. 

“Water is a critical commodity and a depleting resource in California. As one of the top water consumers in San Francisco, it is essential for us to do our part to minimize our impact to the city. The BART groundwater recovery system helps us do that while continuing to provide exceptional service to our district energy customers.” said Gordon Judd, General Manager of the Energy Center San Francisco.

The IDEA Innovation Award is an annual competition started in 2015 that is intended to recognize achievement of energy and water savings and collaboration among IDEA member systems and business partner technology providers.  The intent of the IDEA Innovation Award is to bring visibility and awareness to projects that have potential for widespread application and replicability that may reduce energy usage, enhance efficiency or strengthen reliability. 

“IDEA is pleased to recognize Clearway Energy, Energy Center San Francisco for their achievement of significant recovery of otherwise wasted groundwater.  As cities, communities and campuses across the globe grapple with population growth and depleting resources, technologies like the BART Groundwater Recovery System have tremendous value, especially in conjunction with district energy systems in our cities,” says Rob Thornton, President and CEO of IDEA.  “We applaud Clearway Energy, Energy Center San Francisco for sharing their experience and helping other communities to better understand water recovery.”

This year’s Innovation Award winner has successfully implemented a technology that so far has saved in excess of 30 million gallons of municipal water by taking what has historically been an intrusive problematic inflow of ground water into a large train station that would traditionally be thrown away into the sanitary sewer and instead cleaning and converting it to high quality makeup water for its district energy plants.

“This year’s Innovation Award competition was the largest ever with a variety of excellent entries that are resulting in game changing improvements at district energy plants all over the world.  In the end, the Energy Center San Francisco BART Water Reclamation Project scored the highest among the panel of judges but we also voted to recognize two other projects from University of Texas at Austin and Empower Energy Solutions of Dubai, UAE with Honorable Mentions”, said Bob Smith, Vice President, RMF Engineering and Chair, IDEA Awards Committee.

The San Francisco District Heating System owned by Clearway Energy’s Energy Center San Francisco (ECSF) is over 100 years old and evolved from several separate steam systems. This original configuration resulted in no comprehensive condensate return system being part of the existing united steam system. As such, most of the steam produced by ECSF is generated from potable City water, making ECSF one of the largest water users in the City.

By collaborating with the City of San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SPUC), and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), Energy Center San Francisco (ECSF) was able to turn a costly liability into a valuable asset with the water reclamation project. The project involved recovery of over 30 million gallons of BART groundwater per year and transporting it to the ECSF plant via a newly installed underground pipeline. To be successful, the system had to be designed for multiple steps of purification to remove trash, dirt, biologicals, minerals, and chemicals. BART groundwater now provides approximately 30% of the annual makeup water needs of Energy Center San Francisco, reducing the annual water/sewer cost by about $700,000 per year. 

To date the BART Water Reclamation project has reduced city potable water consumption by 30 million gallons per year, roughly 30%; reduced water/sewer cost to ECSF; reduced chemical treatment costs, due to alkalinity removal which results in reduced chemical treatment costs to customer buildings; and distribution system maintenance cost savings of approximately $250,000/year.

Using a combination of groundwater and well water will allow ECSF to market a new product called “Sustainable Steam” which helps to promote District Energy in San Francisco. This has been gaining tremendous interest and enthusiasm from San Francisco City leadership. This is a key effort in convincing cities to become advocates and customers of District Energy.

 2019 IDEA Innovation Award Honorable Mentions

_LD21910.jpgIDEA also recognized two projects in the Honorable Mention Category that scored very close to the top in the runner up positions. The first has been developed by the University of Texas Austin and it is known as “Thermal Energy Storage Dispatch Optimization”. UT uses smart controls and predicative algorithms to charge and discharge its TES tanks in the best possible configuration and this saves over $1 million/year in fuel costs.

_LD21922.jpgThe second was developed by Empower Energy Solutions. With 75 district cooling plants providing 1.43 million tons of refrigeration, Empower has been continually inventing many new ways to support Dubai’s “Green Economy for Sustainable Development”. It launched a tool called the “Intelligent Delta T Analyzer and Detector” to scan its entire network to spot any customers or neighborhoods with less than ideal temperature differentials and notify the operation center so that immediate corrections can be made. This system is so effective it is saving nearly $40 million/year in operating costs.

These two technologies were worthy of special recognition and so IDEA honored UT Austin and Empower Energy Solutions as Innovation Award Honorable Mentions.



The International District Energy Association (IDEA) is a nonprofit trade association founded in 1909 to facilitate the exchange of information among district energy professionals. IDEA is governed by an all-volunteer Board of Directors and works actively to foster the success of members as leaders in providing reliable, economical, efficient and environmentally sound district heating, district cooling and cogeneration (also known as combined heat and power or CHP) services. Today, IDEA has over 2,500 members in over 30 nations. For more information, visit