President's Message 1st Quarter 2018

By Robert Thornton posted 01-16-2018 11:14


One area that has long frustrated me, and many others in IDEA, has been the treatment of and consideration for district energy and combined heat and power in U.S. military base installations. Time and again, we have heard of bases electing to disaggregate district heating systems as part of an energy savings performance contract (ESPC) or utility energy service contract (UESC). Too often, the private partners lack the technical and business experience to modernize, optimize and renew district energy thermal networks. Of course, there are instances where thermal networks are fully depreciated, poorly maintained or are now oversized for a reduced load after a base is repurposed. But all too often, thermal energy is simply undervalued, and the contractors focus mostly on power or fuel. Worse yet, under a UESC, the incumbent utility (electric or natural gas) appears eager to transform the military base into an extension of its own distribution, e.g., by installing natural gas piping with individual boilers in each building. While this approach adds to the utility’s rate base, it also impacts ongoing maintenance and labor costs and significantly diminishes the potential for a CHP-based microgrid by reducing the aggregated thermal load. However, we see signs this trend is changing as military energy planners and national labs are now recognizing district energy/CHP as vital infrastructure for a more efficient and resilient military microgrid.

Last month, IDEA was invited by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Facilities Council to participate in a workshop at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. The topic was “Energy Planning for Resilient Military Installations.” Our mission was to invite IDEA members – including campus energy leaders, consultants and technology providers – to share their expertise with energy planners and base personnel in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines and the national labs at Sandia, Oak Ridge and Lawrence Berkeley. I was very proud of all the IDEA participants who offered their valuable insights based on real-world experiences and best practices.

We believe there is much to gain from IDEA campus energy systems sharing experience with their military counterparts because the operational settings are quite similar, with comparable energy densities, mission-critical loads and management objectives to reduce fuel and water dependency, optimize efficiency and cut emissions. Many campuses expressed willingness to host military counterparts for site visits and tours. Today, the primary military driver is resiliency, and that is where IDEA members really shine.

I want to thank all the IDEA members who supported the workshop. Jerry Schuett, Affiliated Engineers, outlined the creative redesign and rebuilding of the University of Texas Medical Branch energy infrastructure after Hurricane Ike devastated the coastal campus. Juan Ontiveros, The University of Texas at Austin, shared his approach to accelerating a utility master plan to support construction of a new district energy system for the new medical school. Ted Borer, Princeton University, explained the emergency response that enabled uninterrupted service to the campus and community during Superstorm Sandy. Chris Potter, Architect of the Capitol, shared the history of the Capitol Power Plant system that provides steam and chilled water to the U.S. Capitol and other federal buildings. He reported on the extensive net present value analysis that led to the installation of CHP. Gregg Coffin, University of Missouri, explained how his campus optimizes efficient use of steam, chilled water and power for the campus, integrating multiple fuels and renewables, cutting water use and delivering highly reliable energy service. He urged audience members to participate in IDEA, recounting how IDEA involvement had helped Mizzou transform its campus from in-building chillers in 1995 to a robust district cooling network by connecting buildings “a stick of pipe at a time.” Mizzou was recognized as the IDEA System of the Year in 2017. Sarah Zalieski of the U.S. Department of Energy Better Buildings Zero Energy Districts Accelerator discussed program status, and Peter Korzeniewski of Grundfos shared an innovative private-public partnership energy-sharing project in Bjerringbro, Denmark.

Additional IDEA participation was provided by Bob Smith, RMF Engineering, as he presented on alternative fuel use on campuses and bases across North America. Jean Laganiere, Urecon, outlined approaches for converting from steam to hot water distribution, while Anders Dyrelund and Dan Kelley of Ramboll shared case studies and economic considerations for hot water solutions. Dan Dixon, Lincoln Electric System, gave a compelling case study on development and operation of a large-scale geothermal district energy system, providing guidance on sizing, startup and customer considerations. Tom Phelps, Stantec, shared a report on master energy planning for multiple military installations in Germany. Daniel Fingleton, Solar Turbines, explained how a large electric storage asset can provide resiliency and enhanced grid stability in a capacity-constrained setting. Mark Worthington, Underground Energy, provided case studies and a comprehensive explanation of aquifer thermal storage. Underground seasonal storage is widely deployed in the Netherlands and holds substantial potential in North America. Baird Brown of Drinker Biddle gave a very instructive primer on financing energy projects for military installations, compressing about 35 years of experience into a 10-minute panel presentation. Kevin Vaughn, Schneider Electric, outlined an ESPC project to modernize a critical data center for the Navy, and Serge Zinger, Thermo Systems, described multiple projects where a critical control system proved fundamental to optimal operations of mission-critical hardware on a campus microgrid.

Collectively, I was very proud to be affiliated with these outstanding professionals from IDEA who volunteered their time and travel to support our U.S. military. This was an important first step, and I hope to welcome even more military and national lab representatives at upcoming IDEA conferences, most notably CampusEnergy2018 in Baltimore, March 5-9, 2018. Program topics will include emergency preparedness and resiliency; system renewal and expansion; combined heat and power; environmental and compliance strategies; integrating renewables; controls and automation; innovative financing and emerging business models; microgrids; thermal storage; and regulations, policy and business best practices. This year we received nearly twice as many abstracts as there are presentation slots available, so we will offer 22 poster presentations to help accommodate the heightened level of interest. These will be on display throughout the conference, with authors appearing at scheduled intervals to enable audience interaction.

As always, I’m grateful to our members for their willingness to share lessons learned and help colleagues learn from past mistakes, explaining what they might do differently the next time around. This camaraderie is what distinguishes IDEA from other industry associations. From the 35-year industry veteran to the enthusiastic early-career engineer, IDEA members are sincerely engaged in helping each other. Owner/operators take to the podium along with consultant and technology partners to explain the intent of a recent project, review unexpected changes in scope and discuss the findings, often exposing scar tissue along with favorable outcomes. Helping a colleague can be a gratifying experience of giving back and contributing to the greater good.

An IDEA conference is fundamentally different from other conferences, especially those being offered by profit-driven magazines and publishing houses. As a nonprofit industry association, it’s important to recognize that net income generated from IDEA conferences is reinvested in advocacy, education and promoting the interests of our members. When evaluating your budget and calendar decisions, I would urge you to consider whether your exhibit and sponsor dollars are ultimately supporting the health of the industry or benefitting the bottom line of a private magazine title. With all the new energy conferences competing for limited time and travel budgets, I think it’s important to consider whose bottom line ultimately benefits.

Our recent Microgrid 2017 conference in Boston was a huge success, with over 460 in attendance (see page 34 for more details). In addition to many high quality panel discussions, our keynote speaker, ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, gave an insightful and inspirational address, which is available on the IDEA website. I’m also pleased to report that ComEd recently signed up as a member of the Microgrid Resources Coalition.

In the months ahead, plan to join us in beautiful Vancouver, B.C., for IDEA2018, “Local Solutions, Global Impact,” June 11-14. In addition to the innovative systems at the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Neighbourhood Energy Utility, multiple new systems are being developed across the region. IDEA is pleased to be organizing a pre-conference workshop on urban district energy development in collaboration with the Asia Pacific Urban Energy Association (APUEA). As global population densifies and shifts to warmer climates, APUEA works with the World Bank, the Asia Pacific Development Bank and several IDEA global corporations. The workshop will feature IDEA global leaders and the United Nations Environment District Energy in Cities Initiative sharing expertise on district cooling deployment. Next fall, IDEA and the Microgrid Resources Coalition are organizing Microgrid 2.0 in Baltimore, Oct. 29-31. Since there is a great deal of microgrid activity in the state of Maryland, we want to bring the national industry together in support of local government policy leadership. Proximity to Washington, D.C., will also enable strong involvement from federal agencies and the U.S. military microgrid sector, so please take action early to submit an abstract, secure exhibit space or sign up to sponsor.

Finally, we are working on arrangements for another International District Cooling Conference in Dubai in December, 2018 as continued strong sector growth in the region merits IDEA engagement to support best practices and industry innovation. As IDEA continues to grow, we look ahead to 2018 eager to support deployment of district energy/CHP/microgrids in cities, communities, campuses and military bases across North America and around the world.