Want to Learn about the Future of Energy? Ask Those Already Living it

June 14, 2016
A lot of people are wondering where the fast-changing energy industry is heading. But some already are living the future of energy, and they will gather in St. Paul, Minnesota June 20-23 to share their experience and insight.

A lot of people are wondering where the fast-changing energy industry is heading. But some already are living the future of energy, and they will gather in St. Paul, Minnesota next week to share their experience and insight.

About 800 energy leaders from 22 countries are expected to attend “Embracing Change,” the 107th annual conference of the International District Energy Association.

To be held June 20-23, the event will feature those who already operate microgrids, district energy systems, and combined heat and power plants – all central technologies in the emerging distributed energy economy.

“People will be talking about projects that they have done; it’s not theoretical. They will be answering questions and sharing advice,” said Rob Thornton, IDEA president and CEO, in a recent interview.

The event will focus on how these technologies provide resiliency and sustainable energy for cities, campuses and communities. In addition to presentations and panel discussions, the program will feature guided tours of operating systems. An exhibit hall will showcase the newest technologies and equipment.

Attendees will include utility executives, district energy operators and investors, commercial and campus energy managers, regulators, policymakers, developers and suppliers of district energy, CHP, and microgrid products and services.

When outages are not an option

Interest is heightening in local energy, particularly among those in industries that are deeply dependent on reliable power, such as research facilities, data centers, and others where power outages can mean steep loss of money and work product.

“The reality is that customers have needs and requirements today that they didn’t have 10 years ago. The old cliché is that failure is not an option; really outages are not an option,” Thornton said.

The conference also will focus on the new partnerships forming between the utility industry and experienced district energy, CHP and microgrid operators.

“Many of us have been in the industry for 20 or 30 years and we are all marveling at the pace of change, particularly as it is happening from the perspective of electric utilities,” Thornton said.

Thornton emphasized that these technologies are not about displacing the utility grid, but augmenting it.

Most customers believe utilities do a good job; they have built an impressive central grid, he said. But awareness is growing that it’s unfair to ask utilities to offer the kind of specialized reliability services needed by certain contemporary industries.

This is part of the reason for growing investment in district energy, microgrids and CHP, according to .

“Our existing systems are investing, innovating and growing organically,” he said. “In North America people are tuning their assets, they are improving efficiency, reducing demand, shifting fuel supply, integrating renewables, adapting to offer microgrids and greater levels of efficiency.”

The makers and operators of these systems can offer utilities and others guidance through lessons learned, Thornton said.“There is something to be said for working with people who know how to twirl a pizza. It’s going to come out round and well.”

Microgrid highlights

Several sessions will feature microgrids, in keeping with IDEA’s recent assimilation of the Microgrid Resources Coalition. They include:

  • An all-day workshop, “Community Energy: Moving Microgrids Forward.”
  • A microgrid forum to discuss current industry issues.
  • A microgrid symposium on such topics as optimizing the power mix within a microgrid; automation, load shed and zero voltage start; issues facing developers; and use of microgrid controls to harness a project’s full capability.

In addition, an eight-member panel of experts on Tuesday morning will present a “Global Industry Panel Discussion: Embracing Change.”  Discussion will center on how to best advance emerging energy trends either underway or about to burst onto the scene worldwide. The panel will explore such topics as: the pace of change in the energy/utility sector; innovation and emerging technologies; delivering resilience, efficiency and environmental benefits in cities, communities, and campuses; lessons to be learned from Germany, the UK, India, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar; how to accelerate deployment of district energy, CHP and microgrids in cities; and “pinch points” currently blocking wider adoption of district energy. Audience members will be able to participate via real-time polling questions during the session.

The event is being held in St. Paul with a nod to the city’s leadership in district energy. Recognized by the United Nations Environment Program as one of 45 leading global cities with a modern, sustainable district energy system, St. Paul boasts North America’s largest hot water district heating system.

Conference attendees will be able to tour operating district energy systems serving downtown St. Paul, downtown Minneapolis and a new CHP system at the University of Minnesota.  A special tour of Rochester will feature the district energy system serving the Mayo Clinic and the energy infrastructure planning for a $6 billion sustainable healthcare community expansion.

The 107th Annual IDEA Conference and Trade Show will be held at the St. Paul River Centre. For details about the conference and to register, visit http://www.idea2016.org/.

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About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is the editor and founder of EnergyChangemakers.com. She is co-founder and former editor of Microgrid Knowledge.