District energy is crucial for the environment, says expert

In this week’s Net Hero Podcast, we spoke to the CEO of International District Energy Association, Rob Thornton, about why district energy is necessary for our cities

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District energy makes economic sense.

That’s what Rob Thornton, President and CEO of International District Energy Association (IDEA), said in this week’s Net Hero Podcast.

District energy is a centralised energy system that provides heating or cooling to a collection of buildings in a district.

Mr Thornton said: ‘It makes economic sense and it’s economies of scale.

‘Rather than every building dedicating space, equipment, capital and manpower to producing, managing, operating and providing water to equipment, individual buildings. By consolidating it as a central plan, you can supply energy to a 100 buildings through one central plant.’

Mr Thornton believes that district heating can optimise space, especially necessary in big cities.

He said: ‘Instead of dedicating space, valuable leasable space in the building to equipment, not only in the building but on top of the building.

‘If you have a boiler or a chiller plant where you’re making air conditioning in your building, you have got to release the heat through cooling towers on the roof. So that’s some of the most valuable real estate there is.

‘One of our active members is in Dubai, very large district cooling network. There’s two hotels nearly side by side. One has a roof full of condensers making noise, the other has a tennis court. Which one would you rather have? And so that that’s really district energy is an economic and moreover efficient.’

District energy networks can help solve the issues of efficiency and sustainability for large chunks of area at a time.

Rob said: ‘You can solve for a whole bunch of bananas, right? A stalk of bananas or one banana at a time. We’re trying to address it a bunch of bananas at a time, a city at a time or at least a district at a time.’

Rob believes that retrofitting district energy into cities, although difficult and time consuming, will ‘generate terrific yield’.

He said: ‘You don’t blanket it. You don’t cover it overnight. You can do it in nodes. You connect to like a community housing or complex. That’s step one. And then maybe a few blocks away you connect another. So there’s a way to Lego, build this sort of Jenga, do building blocks. You don’t get there overnight.’

Mr Thornton believes that it is essential that we use district energy globally, among other solutions, to address the climate crisis.

He added: ‘I think its essential [to use district energy]. We’re now a planet of 8.1 billion people. You know, 55% people live in cities. There’ll be 6 billion people living in cities by 2050. We have to solve for cities because that’s really where 70% of the greenhouse gases occur.’

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