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President's Message 4th Quarter 2011

By Robert Thornton posted 06-16-2017 20:05


From District Energy Magazine, Fourth Quarter, 2011

Rob Thornton

I want to begin with an open invitation to energy and operations personnel at our nation's military bases to join us at the 25th Annual IDEA Campus Energy Conference, "Innovations in Clean Energy" in Arlington, Va., Feb. 6-9, 2012. If you think about it, our nation's colleges and universities have much in common with the 507 military installations owned and operated by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). Both are very concerned with delivering mission-critical service, reducing energy and water consumption, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and achieving greater sustainability through deployment of clean energy technologies.

For the past quarter century, people running many of the most innovative and efficient district energy systems in the U.S. have come together each year at the IDEA Campus Energy Conference to exchange ideas on how to cut energy use, reduce emissions and deliver highly reliable energy services. Our nation's military bases are now facing similar challenges as set forth in the 2009 Executive Order 13514, "Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance," which mandates a broad range of improvements in energy efficiency, emissions reductions and reporting. Base energy managers could well benefit from the experiences of IDEA member systems that have successfully deployed clean energy solutions like district energy and CHP.

The U.S. DOD is the world's largest consumer of energy, consuming 135 million barrels of fuel and 30 million megawatt-hours of electricity at a cost of over $20 billion per year. DOD consumes 300,000 barrels of oil per day, or about 1.7 percent of total U.S. consumption. Every $1 increase in a barrel of oil equates to an extra $30 million in costs for the Navy.

According to 2010 testimony by Dr. Dorothy Robyn, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, the DOD has over 300,000 buildings totaling 2.2 billion sq ft which consume about $3.4 billion worth of energy each year, primarily for space heating and cooling. In 2008, DOD consumed 890 trillion BTUs, representing more than half of the federal government's energy consumption.

In addition to achieving economic, energy-efficiency and environmental gains, a key DOD objective of Order 13514 is to reduce the risk of interruptions in military operations due to reliance solely on the commercial electricity grid. In today's modern warfare, combat effectiveness is now directly hinged on facility operations. For example, drone missions in Afghanistan are actually run out of a remote base in Nevada. Reliable electricity supply therefore has mission and security implications with potential costs that far exceed the dollar value of savings in energy consumption. As evidenced by the widespread power grid failure across the Southwest in early September, CHP on military bases seems like a prudent strategic investment.

Reliability is a hallmark advantage of district energy systems, especially where they support critical research, laboratories and surgeries. A case in point would be the recent $377 investment by TECO in the expansion of its district energy system, adding 48 MW of CHP to enhance system reliability and efficiency in serving the Texas Medical Center, the largest health care campus in the world. Another example is UT Austin's 137 MW CHP district energy system, operating at nearly 90 percent efficiency and now serving 18 million sq ft of customer space with the same fuel volume as when the campus was only 9 million sq ft. This summer, portions of the Texas electricity grid were exposed to 70 consecutive days of tem­peratures exceeding 100 degrees F, stressing the ERCOT grid well beyond reasonable reserve margins and triggering real-time power costs to cap out at $3,000 per MWh. I would think any military base in the Southwest would be well served to exchange insights with systems personnel at TECO or UT Austin.

Another objective in Order 13514 is for DOD to support industry development as a "testbed" partner for commercializing new clean energy technologies. DOD and the Department of Energy (DOE) recently signed a memorandum of understanding that contemplates DOD bases as locations to deploy and monitor performance of pre-commercial clean energy technologies. Perhaps IDEA's role with the DOE Clean Energy Application Centers will open another avenue for exchange between IDEA members and the DOE/DOD. I can see a scenario where, for example, Princeton University and partners share their many years of operational experience in optimizing CHP/district energy operations with the PJM grid, saving millions of dollars while cutting campus peak demand on the grid from 27 MW to 2 MW. If military bases want to increase their own self-sufficiency and reliability, there are clearly lessons to be learned from our universities.

All federal agencies are under White House order to curb greenhouse gas emis­sions by 28 percent by 2020, which is not very far off. IDEA member institutions like Cornell University have demonstrated that CHP is the most cost-effective investment to cut indirect emissions. For those bases in the Southeast and Midwest that are reliant largely on coal-based grid power, adding on-site natural gas or biomass CHP could be the primary game-changer for emissions compliance. IDEA members and business partners can offer practical insights into system design, startup, commissioning and ongoing operations.

DOD is no stranger to district energy, having successfully implemented district energy innovations in base locations like Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Twentynine Palms in California. Many of the early projects were supported by the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and underwritten by private-public partnerships through Energy Saving Procurement Contracts (ESPC) or Performance Contract Shared Savings arrangements. However, a note of caution is important here. Without informed guidance from the base management on the life-cycle benefits of district energy/CHP or technical support from an informed source such as ORNL or the DOE Clean Energy Regional Application Centers, local gas and electric utilities may opt to implement more standard commercial-scale in-building systems or other low-first-cost solutions.

It can be disturbing to hear of an existing district energy network replaced by individual boilers and chillers in each building, a long-term decision that effectively forecloses future opportunities for CHP, biomass or other scalable thermal technologies. While such a decision may seem shortsighted to those of us in district energy, it might make sense to a decision maker whose primary experience with district energy involved an outdated system or one that had not been maintained effectively. The initial cost of replacing plant equipment or thermal distribution networks might appear too daunting to someone looking for shorter-term, lower-first-cost solutions. Had that person been more exposed to the best practices employed at highly efficient and reliable systems typical of IDEA members, the decision to retain and re-invest in a district energy system might be more likely.

There is little doubt that military bases represent an aggregated thermal load that often can be best served by integrating CHP with district energy. It is important that full consideration be given before the network is dismantled and scalable clean energy options are eliminated. If military energy managers were more exposed to the likes of Juan Ontiveros at UT Austin or Ray DuBose at UNC Chapel Hill or Jim Riley at Texas A&M, they might look at their district energy systems more as an asset rather than a liability.

Deploying a local energy resource like biomass cost-effectively generally requires the aggregated scale of a district heating network. Richard Kidd, deputy assistant secretary of the Army, recently noted that the Army is looking to convert waste streams (surplus heat) into resource streams. District energy facilitates those solutions. So before abdicating long-term base energy decisions to a third party or local utility ESCO, DOD should fully understand the potential for clean energy applications on base with an aggregated thermal load versus in-building boilers and chillers. In those cases where aging steam systems may need renewal, re-insulation or replacement, the IDEA com­munity owns and operates thousands of miles of district piping networks along with business partners specializing in cost-effective strategies.

So we invite our military colleagues to attend IDEA's 25th Annual Campus Energy Conference where they can "go to school" on best practices and emerging technologies while easily meeting with peers and business partners under one roof. It is our hope that the EPA CHP Partnership will be presenting CHP Energy Star Awards focused on military bases, showcasing successful CHP deployments to date. The collegial atmosphere of the conference will include tracks on LEED and district energy, energy master planning, and integrating the sustainability mission. At IDEA, our 102 years of experience gives us confidence to say that meeting the objectives of Executive Order 13514 will be easier with district energy than without it. We extend the hand of friendship to our colleagues at the military bases to move the mission ahead.

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