Feds Consider Microgrid in Upgrade of Washington, D.C. Energy Backbone

Oct. 23, 2016
The U.S. government says it will consider installing a microgrid as part of a massive energy upgrade planned for a large block of buildings in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. government says it will consider installing a microgrid as part of a massive energy upgrade planned for a large block of buildings in Washington, D.C.

The General Services Administration issued a request for information (RFI) Friday in the first step to upgrade the 81-year-old district energy network and younger combined heat and power (CHP) system. The RFI is precursor to an energy request for proposals to be issued at a later date.

The federal government also wants to find ways to monetize the system and will consider outsourcing.

Known as the Heating Operations & Transmission District, or HOTD, the electric and thermal system now provides steam to 71 buildings and chilled water to 11 buildings. The operation includes 12 miles of tunnels and buried lines.

The GSA-owned system has “1940s era equipment” that is functional but not efficient, according to the RFI.

The federal government envisions the HOTD serving as the generation source for a possible microgrid. It wants a new, greener system that offers energy security and reliability and possibly new revenue streams and alternative business and ownership models.

Built as a steam network in 1934, the system was expanded to offer chilled water in 1957. Coal fueled the steam boilers originally. But in the early 1990s the government converted the system to natural gas with oil as a backup.

In the mid-2000s, the federal government added the CHP system and new chiller capacity, under an energy services agreement with a private firm.  Like the district energy system, the CHP plant uses natural gas as a primary fuel and oil as a backup. It supplies electricity onsite and exports excess power to the distribution grid. The GSA raises the possibility of using the excess electric capacity in a microgrid.

Map of Washington, DC’s HOTD. Source US GSA

While the system has served the federal government well for 80 years, it now faces several problems related to its age and market changes.

Today, the buildings demand less steam from the system because they have become more efficient or have added on-site heating systems. Remaining customers therefore face higher steam costs since there are fewer of them to pay for the system.

This system’s economic woes are compounded by the way the buildings use energy. Most are traditional office buildings, so they all tend to use energy around the same time – during the work day. The plant had to be built with a large enough capacity to meet the day-time need. But during non-work hours much of that capacity goes wasted.

“At the same time, GSA is facing mounting capital costs to address aging infrastructure, system reliability, deferred maintenance, and evolving technology and regulatory requirements,” the RFI says.

The GSA wants to leverage the expertise of the energy industry “to explore whether and how specialized private sector (such as energy utility/systems operators) might be able to assist federal authorities in optimizing HOTD performance,” the RFI says.

Responses are due December 22 to Kathy White, GSA contracting officer, [email protected]. The RFI is available for download at Federal Business OpportunitiesGS-11-P-16-YE-P-0000.

Track microgrid opportunities by subscribing to the free Microgrid Knowledge newsletter.

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.

Twitter: @ElisaWood

LinkedIn: Elisa Wood

Facebook:  Microgrids


Design for Purpose Microgrids – Water and Wastewater

Nov. 3, 2023
Michael Boswell, vice president, power & infrastructure at Concord Engineering discusses microgrid designs for water and wastewater.

Grid Beyond Wp Cover 2023 01 06 12 24 33

Global Energy Trends 2023

Over 2021-22, environmental, macro-economic, and geopolitical shocks have put the global energy transition under pressure.