Microgrid Advocates Explain Technology’s Advantages to Congressional Leaders

Dec. 6, 2016
“It isn’t just about price anymore,” IDEA’s Rob Thornton said during a microgrid briefing today in Washington, DC.

“It isn’t just about price anymore,” Rob Thornton, president and CEO of the International District Energy Association (IDEA), told Congressional leaders in Washington, D.C. today.

Mayors, governors, employers and others also want energy supply that is resilient, local and clean, Thornton said at the briefing on microgrids, combined heat and power (CHP) and district energy at the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

The event, which attracted about 200 participants, took place as the House and Senate continue to struggle to produce a comprehensive energy bill before the session ends. It also comes as the new White House signals the possibility of making major infrastructure investments.

Thornton described a changing energy marketplace, where energy must offer attributes beyond just low prices. Microgrids, CHP and district energy provide those attributes, and should be part of any upcoming federal infrastructure spend, he said.

He highlighted Veolia’s 256-MW Kendall Station in Boston and Princeton University’s microgrid as examples of the efficient, local energy local leaders seek.

Kendall Station takes waste heat from power production and channels it into pipes to heat buildings in Boston. In conventional power plants, the heat energy goes to waste. By making good use of the heat, Kendall has reduced emissions the equivalent of removing 80,000 cars from the road. Achieving the same result with solar would require 600 football fields of PV panels, he said.

“If you have ever been to Boston, you can’t find 600 football fields,” Thornton said..

The US wastes vast amounts of heat in power production — as much energy as 197 other countries use, he said.

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Princeton, meanwhile, drew national attention when its microgrid kept the electricity flowing to the campus during Superstorm Sandy. Ted Borer, who operates Princeton’s microgrid, pointed out that the benefits extend beyond just electric reliability. In fact, he said that microgrids win on both environmental and economic arguments, as well.

“We want to save money and we want to save the environment. You can sell this to either side,” he said.

Borer called for greater consideration of lifecycle costs in development of energy infrastructure. In such cases, upfront costs may be high, but the system could last 100 years, he said.

The briefing was organized by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute. It was the first of a two-day event in Washington, D.C. being held by IDEA and the Microgrid Resources Coalition. The second day, “Microgrids: Transforming the Grid,” will offer a series of panel discussions to be held at the National Press Club.

Join Microgrid Knowledge, the IDEA, MRC and executives from utilities, developers and customers from around the world who are interested in microgrid adoption at the Microgrid 2017 Conference and Exhibition on November 6 – 8, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. Click here for details.

About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

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