President's Message 3rd Quarter 2018

By Robert Thornton posted 08-20-2018 14:27


From District Energy Magazine, Third Quarter, 2018

The theme for IDEA2018 in Vancouver was “Local Solutions, Global Impact,” and the outcome of the 109th annual conference clearly bore that out. Nearly 800 attendees from 22 countries, six provinces, 37 states and 256 cities provided a range of perspectives, experiences and technology innovations that were rich, diverse and inspiring. The global impact was obvious. Representatives of the U.N. Environment Programme’s District Energy in Cities Initiative shared rich content on trends and momentum in their local economies, from the U.K. central government support for district heating, to partnering in Toronto, to changing rules for combined heat and power in Germany, to planned growth in district cooling in Dubai and Singapore. We heard about district energy deployment in Colombia and South Korea, in remote communities of northern Canada, and closer to home, from Gregor Robertson, mayor of Vancouver, as well as mayors, councillors and representatives from five other communities in Greater Vancouver.

District energy infrastructure has become the standard for forward-looking cities and communities across British Columbia. The city of Vancouver established the Southeast False Creek Neighbourhood Energy Utility to support the planned development for the 2010 Olympic Village. Just recently, the city council voted unanimously to significantly expand the district energy system to support low-carbon growth. Likewise, the city of Richmond, home to Lulu Island Energy Co. and IDEA 2016 System of the Year Alexandra District Energy Utility, is continuing to invest in low-carbon district energy as a fundamental component of new development. The city of Surrey has ambitious plans for transit-oriented, mixed-use dense development to drive urban economic growth around education, health care and a strong tech economy. Coquitlam, New Westminster and North Vancouver are all featuring district energy systems as key to future growth. IDEA was very pleased to recognize and chat with local leaders from each community during our awards luncheon.

Not to blow our own horn, but the quality and depth of technical content and best practice insight at this conference was off the charts. I urge you to review the conference proceedings online and share this information with colleagues. I want to recognize the efforts of our IDEA program team, Laxmi Rao, Paige Davis and Emily Riskalla, as well as our volunteer technical chair Paul Holt, University of British Columbia, for assembling an excellent conference program along with two well-attended preconference workshops. Holt and Gerard MacDonald, Reshape Strategies, curated an excellent educational program on design, construction and deployment of smart thermal grids and local zoning and policy considerations. IDEA collaborated with the Asia Pacific Urban Energy Association on a workshop titled “District Energy/CHP/Microgrids for Warmer Climates.” Additionally, IDEA was very pleased to renew for another three-year term a memorandum of understanding between IDEA and Korea District Heating Corp. that calls for greater collaboration and exchange among our countries, particularly focused on lower-carbon district energy solutions.

Looking ahead, IDEA will next be hosting Microgrid 2.0 in Baltimore, Oct. 29-31. With the recent resignation of FERC Commissioner Robert Powelson, it will be interesting to hear FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur comment on the many factors impacting the U.S. utility industry such as resiliency, capacity retirements, distributed resource integration and the emergence of microgrids. We will have a robust program featuring industry innovators, prominent microgrid developers and end users. The latter is one thing that sets IDEA apart from most other conferences: our focus on members with live assets and actual operational experience. IDEA conferences are less theoretical and more experiential. The program will conclude with tours of recently completed public service microgrids in Maryland that support mission-critical end users like detention centers and research campuses. 

Soon thereafter, DistrictCooling2018 will launch in Dubai at the Atlantis Hotel on The Palm, Dec. 9-11. We urge members to submit an abstract. IDEA member companies like Empower in Dubai and Tabreed/ENGIE from Abu Dhabi are ready to share experience, strategy and operational insight. Today, Empower has 85,000 meters operating across Dubai and a state-of-the-art command control center to manage, monitor and monetize these assets. We also have a great lineup of speakers and panelists from large district cooling systems in North America, all eager to discuss integration with CHP, thermal storage, microgrids and renewables. We expect strong participation from members in Europe, Asia Pacific and Asia who will share best practices in building citywide cooling schemes in those growing regions.

I would urge readers to make plans now to participate in CampusEnergy 2019 in New Orleans, Feb. 26-March 1, 2019, as an exhibitor, sponsor, presenter or panelist. Now in its 32nd year, the campus energy conference has become the premier event for anyone seeking practical peer exchange, insights on technology innovations, proven conservation strategies and intelligence on policy and regulatory issues. With their proven technology innovations, our college and university systems can offer valuable expertise to peers on military, health care and industrial/commercial campuses.

Finally, it’s not too early to mark your calendars for IDEA2019, “The Energy for More Resilient Cities,” June 24-27, 2019, in Pittsburgh. Mayor Bill Peduto has embarked on a mission of urban renewal featuring district energy, CHP and microgrids as energy infrastructure to rebuild and retool Steel City. IDEA is planning a special program featuring in-depth energy planning and urban integration strategies, especially intended to cultivate public-private partnering opportunities, much like what is currently underway in Pittsburgh with our host utility NRG Energy. We envision a conference that engages municipal energy and resiliency directors along with international industry leaders to share policies, technology integration and proven best practices. Pittsburgh is a thriving community with a unique blend of strong local pride and collaboration, not to mention 446 bridges (even more than Venice).

During the balance of 2018, IDEA is awaiting publication of a report from the U.S. Department of Energy to Congress that we supported regarding the potential for district energy in the United States. Drawing from IDEA data and business cases, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory report was funded under a $10 million appropriation sought by IDEA and approved in the 2018 federal budget. IDEA had suggested that the funding be directed at actual deployment in public sector district energy projects because of the need for early-stage capital support to accelerate clean, resilient energy infrastructure. Instead, the funding has been directed toward the national labs for R&D purposes. Nonetheless, it is our hope that the report to Congress will help IDEA advocate for more robust program funding to assist campuses and communities in investing in district energy infrastructure.

To date, limited congressional attention has been paid to critical energy infrastructure, and IDEA intends to revisit the bipartisan House committee on infrastructure for program updates. Meanwhile, IDEA has launched a new survey on district energy operations, and we are seeking feedback from all members with operating systems. Survey responses will be kept anonymous, and the data will be aggregated for purposes of comparing system growth, employment trends and infrastructure investing. It is important that we have current industry information to share with legislative and policy offices on Capitol Hill and elsewhere. Please visit the IDEA website, using the link to the operations survey for more information.

Finally, I just want to share a closing remark based on my perspective from 31 years in the district energy industry. It seems that our sector is finally getting the attention and recognition it deserves as effective, efficient and resilient energy infrastructure. In the United States, when you couple CHP with district energy plus thermal storage and microgrid capabilities, you have a valuable, robust asset to support the local economy. The good news is that more and more people are aware of the features and benefits. On the other hand, this newfound awareness has given rise to a seemingly endless stream of new “microgrid” conferences offered by private magazines and profit-driven conference houses. Some of these events attract quality speakers, but in the end, the motivation is profit to the organizer. IDEA conferences are also designed to produce net income, but in our case, we reinvest our net proceeds into advocacy and regulatory reform for the collective industry. It is not my place to preach on where to spend conference travel or exhibit budgets. But I would urge caveat emptor: Know where the net proceeds of an event end up. Does your training or sponsorship dollar simply feed the bottom line of a profit-driven magazine publisher or offshore specialty conference house, or is it repurposed into much-needed policy advocacy and education in support of the industry? Much like choosing to shop at the big box or your local hardware store, when planning and allocating your exhibit and sponsor budgets, please consider which outcome deserves your support.