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President's Message 3rd Quarter 2015

By Robert Thornton posted 06-16-2017 20:33


From District Energy Magazine, Third Quarter, 2015

In 1800, when my great-grandfather was a young man stoking a peat/coal boiler in Ireland, and the Industrial Age was just beginning, there were only 1 billion people on the planet. At the time, only 3 percent lived in cities, and there was only one city with a population of 1 million: London. Today, only three generations later, global population is 7.3 billion. There are 498 cities with a popula­tion exceeding 1 million, including 34 megaci­ties with more than 10 million people. The United Nations forecasts that today's urban population of 3.6 billion will reach 5 billion by 2030 when three out of five inhabitants will live in cities, with the most dramatic growth occurring in Asia and the developing world.

The shift to urbanization is happening quickly. By the time my son John reaches my age, in 2055, global population is predicted to be 8.7 billion, with around 5.3 billion living in cities. What will livable cities look like? How will we manage resources like energy and water? How should we link transportation, housing, commerce and resilient energy ser­vices? What steps are needed now to ensure that John has opportunity for an affordable, sustainable and resilient economy for his fam­ily? What kind of world will my son inhabit?

The wake-up call happened in October 2012 when Superstorm Sandy hammered the Northeast and knocked out power to 8.1 mil­lion people, except for at places like Princeton University, NYU, Co-Op City and other com­munities with district energy/CHP that kept the heat and lights on. It became abundantly clear that more frequent and severe weather was the "new normal" and that our nation's energy infrastructure was not fully up to the task. Dis­trict energy/CHP systems were recognized for their robust and reliable operations allowing them to maintain mission-critical services and support ongoing commerce.

Urban centers are not only population-dense but also energy-dense, demanding highly resilient energy services to ensure busi­ness continuity and public safety. My grand­father's electric grid with large remote central generation - operating at 34 percent efficiency and dumping two-thirds of its input energy as waste heat - would clearly be inadequate for this new Internet economy. Localized and more robust integrated energy assets will be necessary to sustain a viable urban ecosys­tem. Mayors "get it," and visionary mayors like Bill Peduto of Pittsburgh and Martin Walsh of Boston are driving investments in new district energy microgrids, recognizing that resilient, sustainable local energy gives their cities a critical competitive advantage.

Urban sustainability directors and plan­ners recently shared their growing enthusiasm for district energy/CHP infrastructure at IDEA's 106th Annual Conference and Trade Show in Boston. Advocates like Tim Taylor of Christ­church, New Zealand, shared how they have championed district energy deployment to re­build more robust urban energy infrastructure following devastating earthquake damage. Brad Swing and Travis Sheehan of the city of Boston spoke about driving multiparty dialogue to stimulate investment in economically compel­ling and resilient urban microgrids. Shannon Lawrence of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group acknowledged that among many C40 cities, district energy is emerging as a critical infrastructure piece for lowering carbon inten­sity and supporting economic growth.

Mayors and planners are eager to deploy microgrids to enhance reliability and strength­en economic competitiveness, but first they must overcome policy impediments posed by arcane regulatory structures. We need to en­gage mayors and planning officials in conver­sation with regulators to strengthen awareness of the public interests of this new integrated energy paradigm. Public policy shifts will be necessary to either leverage market ac­cess or create appropriate incentives for incumbent utilities to enable deployment of urban district energy/CHP systems.

In New York State, Gov. Cuomo's "Reforming the Energy Vision" process entails a regulatory shift to more distrib­uted energy infrastructure. Concurrently, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), through the NY Prize program, has recent­ly announced the awarding of $100,000 grants to each of 83 communities for fea­sibility studies of community microgrids. The NY Prize program attracted submittals from more than 130 communities seeking to strengthen their energy infrastructure by designing and deploying community microgrids. I commend the leaders at NY Prize, NYSERDA and the Cuomo admin­istration for advancing these feasibility assessments with an adequate level of financial support, enabling communities to engage professionals for meaningful assessments leading to the next stage of competition for even greater funding in a subsequent round supporting project implementation.

Panelists at our conference shed some light on what other countries are doing to move the agenda forward. Nicola Butterworth of the U.K. Depart­ment of Energy & Climate Change explained her department's "light touch approach" that supported local com­munities in assessing the feasibility of around 180 district energy schemes. She estimated that if only half of the poten­tial schemes proceeded to construction, it would activate capital investment of approximately £800 million ($1.24 bil­lion) of largely private capital. This is an excellent example of leveraging public funding to stimulate private investment in community infrastructure and deliver meaningful carbon mitigation.

Werner Lutsch of AGFW in Germany reported on a recent study completed by his company and Fraunhofer Institute analyzing the economic and environmen­tal impacts of connecting 70 percent of the largest buildings in Germany's 70 largest cities. The outcomes are compel­ling and help to reinforce Germany's bullish policy support for district energy/CHP deployment. This is the fundamen­tal finding reported by Lily Riahi of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) District Energy in Cities Initiative: that modern district energy systems are critical for urban centers to achieve lower-carbon futures. The UNEP report was a central focus of the IDEA confer­ence, allowing more than 20 organiza­tions from across North America to sign on to the initiative. This included the city of Boston's engagement as a UNEP "champion city," reflecting its commit­ment to developing and sharing policy frameworks with other cities. I applaud Austin Blackmon and the city of Boston for stepping forward in support of this important global initiative.

It is encouraging to listen to people like Susanne Rasmussen, sustainability director for the city of Cambridge, explain the policy that encourages building own­ers and developers to actively investigate the feasibility of district energy for prop­erties exceeding 50,000 sq ft. Cambridge is a dense urban center supporting tech-nology companies and residents alike. Coincidentally, Susanne grew up in Denmark where her father ran the local district energy system, so her apprecia­tion has deep roots. Pittsburgh's sus­tainability manager, Grant Ervin, shared how his city is looking to strengthen and diversify the local energy supply by integrating multiple district energy assets across the city.

In Vancouver, our next IDEA con­ference destination, leaders like Brian Crowe and Chris Baber are actively devel­oping policies supporting urban densifi­cation and deployment of lower-carbon district energy systems. They are chal­lenged by the impact of LEED on building codes that do not adequately value clean district energy services. There is a strong consensus in that market that district en­ergy is a key component of Vancouver's aspirations to be one of the greenest cities on the planet.

IDEA members, I would encourage you to make sure your mayor, sustainabil­ity director and local council members are aware of your operation and your aspirations. Invite them for a tour. Share your story. Listen to their thoughts on local development, energy resiliency and partnering opportunities. Invite your congressional representative for a tour so that he/she is aware of your resources and capabilities.

It is pretty clear that district energy has emerged as an important economic and environmental strategy for cities large and small. IDEA members will need to enthusiastically support this momentum to educate regulators and policy leaders on the value of cleaner, local energy resources. Collectively, we have tremendous case studies to share and experience to leverage. If we are to create the cities our children will want to inherit, we have to accelerate that transition today. We must be the bridge between the energy systems of our grandparents and those needed for our grandchildren. The future will be here before we know it.

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