District energy aids resilience

Comment by Diarmaid W and Steve Hodgson, COSPP:

In the same week that President Obama proposed a mechanism to bypass the lengthy and largely gridlocked US legislative process – by instead ordering the US Environmental Protection Agency to begin controlling US carbon emissions – the benefits of CHP and district energy were debated in Washington, DC.

The US Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources was briefed by the International District Energy Association (IDEA) on both the efficiency advantages of CHP and district energy, and on the advantages they offer building and facility operators in terms of energy ‘resiliency’.

The Committee was last week debating the Local Energy Supply and Resiliency Act (LESRA).

If Obama’s case for controlling US greenhouse gas emissions, promoting renewables and protecting coastal cities from climate change-induced flooding is compelling, then so are the arguments put forward to the Senate Committee in a paper by IDEA’s Legislative Director Mark Spurr.

The US is way behind many European countries in adopting CHP, he said, and is wasting vast quantities of energy in inefficient power stations. Increasing the proportion of US electricity generated with CHP from the current 9% of the total to 20% by 2030 would avoid some 60% of the projected increase in US carbon emissions and create more than a million high-skilled jobs.

IDEA’s particular angle here is that the existence of large-scale district energy systems helps the development of new CHP schemes – local district energy systems pool thermal energy users, providing substantial loads for CHP-generated heat. That’s how Denmark and Finland have achieved their impressive CHP portfolios.

But Spurr’s paper goes on to argue another important point on resilience. Grid outages are hugely expensive, with last year’s hurricane sandy costing perhaps $20 billion in lost business activity. But these losses could have been much smaller if more buildings either operated their own CHP scheme or were connected to district energy schemes – which are inherently more resilient to disruption from natural disasters and other grid supply interruptions.

I reported in a recent blog entry how the State of New York State and its highly effective Energy Research & Development Authority, NYSERDA, have accepted the resilience argument and are now subsidizing new CHP schemes there.

IDEA would like to see the principle extended across the US, even if the legislative route for LESRA is going to be long and difficult.

Source: COSPP