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IDEAS As President and CEO of the International District Energy Association (IDEA), Rob Thornton is uniquely positioned to understand and promote the case for district energy networks. In this interview he elaborates on their strengths, real world achievements, and what it means for the future of sustainable energy for cities. District heating is a proven approach to heating buildings in cities and on campuses, dating back to the 1880’s when it was first deployed as an environmental strategy in US cities like New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Denver to improve urban air quality by displacing emissions from dirty coal boilers in hundreds of individual buildings. By recovering surplus heat from local electricity generating plants, district energy systems aggregated the heating demands and piped steam through underground thermal grids to customer buildings, eliminating on-site combustion and reducing fire risks. After World War II, the rebuilding of cities in Europe included construction of large district heating hot water networks,


often anchored by Combined Heat and Power plants, while in the US, electric utility generating stations were being constructed in remote locations, far from city centers. In the 1960’s and 70’s, district chilled water systems were built in dozens of US cities as part of urban renewal and redevelopment, providing more efficient air conditioning services to buildings in dense downtowns, complexes and college campuses. Lately, an increasing emphasis on environmental sustainability as well as energy efficiency and resiliency has brought district energy back into the limelight, helped in particular by the dramatic destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The International District Energy Association (IDEA) has been at the core of this growing popularity, a non-profit industry group aiding the sector with development of policies, technologies and advocacy. Founded in 1909 as the National District Heating Association, its aim was to consolidate best practice, policy making, and marketing across the nascent industry. Since then it has held an annual conference every year – with the exception of 1918, due to World War One. By the 1980s, interest had spread globally and the organisation expanded its regional remit beyond North America and in 1994, updated the IDEA

Sustainable Business Magazine  

Issue 01/15

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