The 107th International District Energy Association (IDEA) Annual Meeting was recently held in St. Paul, Minnesota. It is amazing to consider the storied history of a group that has been continuously meeting since 1909 and is essential to advancing the state of efficient, economical and resilient power systems today. Initially, the primary focus of IDEA was advancing the district heating industry; district cooling is a more recent topic of interest. Meanwhile, district electricity is a powerful design factor for both heating and cooling for many projects.
Although district energy has always been feasible and advantageous in various jurisdictions and situations, most industry professionals acknowledge that the power systems industry is a slow-moving beast by its very nature. It is capital-intensive and highly regulated and new technologies historically take a long time to reach the market. However, these former absolutes are quickly disappearing.
The annual IDEA meeting included presentations and discussions on new design and financing methods to mitigate economic hesitancy, myriad changes to regulations and interconnection procedures at all levels from local to federal, and examples of implementation of new technology. Energy storage, renewables and state-of-the art combined heat and power cogeneration technology has introduced the microgrid concept into the master plans for many facilities and campuses.
IDEA is an impactful and unique group because they are the owners and operators of power and thermal systems that are making possibilities become reality. Earlier this year, GBCI and IDEA announced a collaboration to work together and promote more sustainable, efficient and resilient electricity and thermal grids through the PEER program. The objective is to place data behind power system performance in a comprehensive and objective manner.
PEER enables energy practitioners to assess the current state of a project, identify and make the business case for improvements and confirm the value of those improvements. PEER is a powerful tool to increase the breadth and speed of positive change in the power industry.