Chair's Update 1st Quarter 2015

By Ken Smith posted 06-25-2017 19:11


For decades, our industry has found success in structured utility markets. Recently, the influence and interests in energy systems has begun to shift, with businesses, local governments and communities embracing local energy systems. Energy production sources are becoming more diverse and localized. Individuals are shifting from consumers to producers, and traditional utilities are re-evaluating their business models. The players and the solutions are in motion, and our industry's role in this new paradigm is growing. We were once overlooked as anonymous underground services but are becoming recognized for the wide-spread benefits we offer to campuses and communities, quickly gaining visibility as a crucial part of energy and greenhouse gas reduction strategies.

IDEA has embraced this trend, developing educational resources to help communities incorporate district heating and cooling into infrastructure plans. We welcome community leaders into our industry and collaboratively plan for new systems or expanding current systems' reach. This is an important step toward advocating our industry's relevance during this dynamic utility and energy transition. To maximize this trend's potential, we need to showcase how our solutions help meet community energy and carbon reduction goals and take a creative approach to developing partnerships.

The goals of community energy development are well-aligned with district energy's benefits: stabilized energy costs, reliability and resilience, and energy conservation. Although we have consistently provided these benefits for decades, some may write off our tried-and-true solution as old technology. Community energy development is an opportunity to reintroduce district energy as a modern solution that unlocks the potential to integrate renewable energy, solar farms, thermal storage, microgrids, combined heat and power, and other technologies. Being considered technologically innovative will become increasingly critical for our industry in this competitive market. Customers will have more choices. We need to prove that our solutions meet their needs today and establish a framework for adaptability and resilience for the future.

Community partnerships are also crucial for continued success. Cities with existing systems are becoming more aware of their energy and utility options. In some cases, cities are leveraging emerging technologies and climate change concerns to challenge utility franchise agreements and drive unprecedented changes in their energy service providers' expectations. This creates a unique opportunity for our industry to create champions within local government and the business community. We can help these partners create localized solutions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and drive local economic development. In exchange, these new champions can establish better standard practices and codes for their regions, which can support hydronic building systems, collaborative infrastructure planning and creative financing tools for public-private partnerships. These partnerships can also raise the visibility of our systems, affirming to existing and potential customers that we are
a trusted, value-driven and resourceful option for their buildings and developments.

IDEA has been examining community energy from many angles recently, and it is important that we continue to analyze trends and key drivers. As a system operator and manager, I am motivated by the opening we have to become part of a broader energy vision that blends our technologies with the electrical grid and brings our systems-based approach to the forefront of planning. Let's continue exploring the opportunities this creates for system growth outside our current boundaries. Let's consider how this changing interest outside our industry translates to growth and potential within our industry. Let's support our peers as they expand their services, build new partnerships and create innovative solutions. It is clear that these quickly changing paradigms and stakeholders will influence how we create future district energy success. There is much more to this conversation. I hope to continue to explore how it helps inspire the next generation when we gather in Denver for the campus conference and Boston for this summer's annual conference.

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