This Year in District Energy

By Paige Davis posted 12-28-2017 11:36


Paige Davis, IDEA

This Year in District Energy

As 2017 comes to close, IDEA is looking back on the stories that were posted on our Industry News Blog. Take a look at some of the biggest stories and trends of the year. Is there a story we didn’t include that you think we should have? Let us know in the comments!

Resiliency and Grid Modernization

There have been a few buzzwords flying around the energy sector in the past year, but none have been quite as relevant as “Resiliency”. The ability to withstand heat waves, hurricanes, cyberattacks and other unexpected emergencies has made resiliency a top priority for anyone who wants to keep the lights on. Countries around the world have been finding ways to modernize their electric grids in response to and in preparation for natural disasters. In the later months of 2017 a series of disasters around the world have proven the need for resilient energy systems; a trio of hurricanes in the southeast US, flooding across Asia Pacific, and wildfires in California to name a few of the most memorable. Some systems, like the Texas Medical Center in Houston, TX, have proven themselves in the face of disaster while others have been found lacking even against more mundane threats.

Investing in Infrastructure

Infrastructure investment has been a top priority for many countries this year and with things like resiliency and grid modernization at the forefront, energy infrastructure has been getting plenty of attention. Governments, investment banks, NGOs and others have dedicated funds to projects that will shore up, rebuild, decarbonize and secure the electric grid. The Canadian government established a new infrastructure bank and even in the US, where other political priorities have stalled Trump’s promise of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, the Department of Energy has committed millions to energy infrastructure, renewable energy, and CHP.

The Continued Global Rise of District Cooling

Climate change has already reared its ugly head this year in the shape of hurricanes, fires and floods, but it is also having a more widespread impact on the warmer regions of the world. Climate change in combination with rapid urbanization is making air conditioning more and more necessary while poor infrastructure is making it harder and harder to support. District Cooling has been proven as a solution for keeping warmer regions cool without putting extraordinary strain on already overburdened electric grids. The district cooling market in the Middle East has matured and become a shining example with companies like Empower using their success to try and spread district cooling technologies to other developing markets with help from organizations like the UN Environment’s District Energy in Cities Initiative.

The Age of Decarbonization

Most of the world is trying to move from an energy system that relies on fossil fuels to one that is cleaner and depends more on renewable sources of energy such as solar, geothermal, hydropower and biomass. Stricter regulations in Europe as well as local efforts to improve air quality have pushed European heating and cooling networks to become cleaner and more sustainable. And even when renewable energy is not being used, carbon intensive coal-fired plants are increasingly being replaced by those that burn natural gas, a significantly cleaner alternative. Natural Gas has displaced coal as the primary fuel in the United States, despite the efforts of many to maintain its relevance. The US even had its own lightbulb moment when a study ordered by the Secretary of Energy to evaluate the impact of renewables on the reliability of the grid came to show that due to advances in technology and grid modernization, baseload coal and nuclear plants weren’t as indispensable as previously believed by some.

Cities are leading the way when it comes to the energy transition, but big companies have also been making strides this year. Amazon made headlines when they issued an RFP for their new HQ2, and that RFP included a section that outlined the importance of district energy. Companies like Amazon recognize the resiliency, environmental, and economic benefits of district energy, CHP and microgrids. Google sees it too. This year their subsidiary, Sidewalk Labs, made an agreement with the city of Toronto to develop a brownfield site and their plans have also made district energy a priority.

US Cities and States Step Up When the Federal Government Leaves Paris Behind

Since the election of Donald Trump, the United States has become the only country in the world to leave the Paris Climate Agreement and has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of leadership when facing the threat of climate change. But while the federal government has stepped down from their role in leading the US towards a more sustainable future, cities and states have been more than willing to pick up the slack. Local leaders, policymakers, and regulators have made commitments to reducing carbon emissions and taken steps toward a greener, more reliable energy system.

Utilities Are Starting to Get It

As the world races toward an efficient, modernized electric grid supported by distributed generation and increasingly fueled by renewable energy sources, utilities tend to get stuck in the past. But some of them are starting to get it and are making major moves toward building the grid and utility of the future.