System of the Year 2019
At its 110th Annual Conference and Trade Show in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the International District Energy Association (IDEA) presented the 2019 annual System of the Year Award to Thermal Energy Corporation (TECO), an IDEA member since 2000.
Created in 1992, the IDEA System of the Year Award (SOYA) is the highest honor IDEA can confer on a district energy system. It is intended to recognize exemplary district energy systems that demonstrate a high level of performance, efficiency and reliability in providing energy services and which best exemplify the many features and benefits of the district energy industry.
“It is a true honor to accept this award and recognition from IDEA. I am happy to accept this award today on behalf of 100+ TECO employees working together to share a common vision. We are humbled to be on the same stage as the many prestigious members who have won this award before us” said Jason Berrio, Vice President of, who accepted the award on behalf of TECO. “We share a vision of 100% reliability to support the critical lifesaving surgeries and research at the Texas Medical Center, the largest healthcare campus in the world. Our resiliency and 100% reliability are a direct result of the actions we took 18 years ago in response to Hurricane Allison.”
Brad Howell, Chairman of the Board at TECO shared a few additional thoughts. “With a mission of patient care, medical education and research, the Texas Medical Center is the biggest Medical Center in the world with over 9,200 licensed hospital beds on its campus of over 1,300 acres. It’s a big place and it keeps getting bigger. It is with that background that you understand that TECO has a very daunting and simple mission – which is to be perfect 100% of the time. Every minute of every day they have to be up. If they fail in that mission for even a moment, people die, and billions of dollars of research go out the window” he continued. “That is a zero-fail mission if ever there was a zero-fail mission. You can imagine the sort of resiliency, not just in systems but in character and in policies and processes that make that system as resilient as it is and as successful as it is. The future of the Texas Medical Center is an incredibly bright future. And it is facilitated by the knowledge that TECO is there every step of the way.”
“IDEA applauds TECO not only for their exemplary demonstration of resiliency in the wake of natural disasters, but also for their leadership in sharing best practices among their IDEA peers. It’s a world class organization with world class people in charge” says Robert Thornton, IDEA President and CEO. TECO exemplifies IDEA’s primary mission since 1909 of informing, connecting and advancing the district energy industry.
The TECO central plant and distribution system is celebrating its’ 50th anniversary this year, beginning operation in 1969. The system has grown exponentially since then, with a $377 million energy-saving system expansion that was completed in 2011. This expansion included the addition of an 8.8 million-gallon chilled water thermal energy storage (TES) tank, a new chiller building with 32,000 tons of installed capacity, expandable to 80,000 tons, a 48 MW Combined Heat and Power plant, which can meet 100% of TECO’s electricity needs, a 138-kV electric substation upgrade, operations support facility with a state of the art control room and a new utility bridge over the Brays Bayou.
With 120,170 tons of chilled water capacity and 980,000 lb/hr steam capacity, TECO currently serves 50 buildings in 16 different institutions (including the Texas Medical Center) totaling over 22 million square feet of space, all operating with 100% reliability over the past 26 years. The system has demonstrated remarkable resiliency, never having experienced any service interruptions during any of the numerous natural disasters that have hit Houston, Texas, including Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Located in Houston, Texas, the TECO system has a high number of cooling degree-days. As a result, TECO produces 80% chilled water and 20% steam, placing a high value on chilled-water system efficiency. TECO’s goal is to produce chilled water using the least amount of energy – the fewest kilowatts per ton and the highest COP. From 2015 – 2018 the TECO system averaged an impressive 0.69kW/ton and 5.10 COP. The thermal energy storage tank is charged at night when electricity rates are lower, saving an average of 6% annually on energy consumption. TECO’s startup of a Combined Heat and Power unit in 2010 doubled its annual operating efficiency and cut fossil fuel consumption by more than 60% compared to conventional electric generation and heat-only systems.
The Award was presented by Bob Smith of RMF Engineering, SOYA Committee Chair, who noted that “TECO excels in every category, with stellar efficiency and truly tested resiliency during the 60-inch rainfall from Hurricane Harvey, through which there were no service interruptions. As an organization, IDEA is pleased to recognize the cumulative effort and investment that goes into operating such a benchmark system. This year was the most robust competition ever with entries from all over the world, all reflecting technical and business excellence. Ultimately, TECO achieved the highest score across all categories and was a unanimous selection of the review committee.”
The award submissions are judged on a rubric of 8 criteria, with equal weight given to each category: System Energy Efficiency, Reliability and Availability, Resiliency (the ability to restore operations promptly due to weather or other events), Environmental Benefits & Carbon Footprint, Sustainability, Employee Safety & Training Programs, Customer Relations, Service Improvements, Communications & Marketing, and Involvement in the Community and Professional Organizations.
Recent IDEA SOYA winners include University of Texas at Austin (2018), University of Missouri (2017), and the City of Richmond (2016). For a complete list of past winners, please visit the System of the Year Award page.