For district energy professionals, Boston was the place to be. The International District Energy Association’s (IDEA’s) 106th Annual Conference and Trade Show wrapped up on July 1st, and what a few days it was. More than 960 delegates from 22 countries came together to share success stories, technical and policy advancements, and the growing momentum in support of district energy around the globe.
I was honoured to begin my term as chair of IDEA at the conference. As chair I have the unique opportunity of selecting a theme for the upcoming year. Building on recent IDEA conference platforms, I have introduced the theme “Embracing Change.”
We are experiencing an unprecedented pace of change in the energy sector – with a renewed focus on energy resiliency, a realization that energy systems must be integrated, the growing role of combined heat and power and distributed generation, and, perhaps the most important trend, the need to increase local leadership and control. Given that some of our systems have been operational in our urban centres and on campuses for more than a century, it is fascinating to observe how district energy is quickly becoming a mainstream discussion in this vortex of change.
With change comes new players and new interpretations of what district energy is, what it can accomplish and what its benefits are. At our conference, we heard from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. New organizations have emerged including the Microgrid Resources Coalition, QUEST (Quality Urban Energy Systems of Tomorrow) and others. Most of these new voices are advocating for the integration of energy systems and the role of district energy as foundational infrastructure. Of interest, not one of the organizations mentioned here appeared on the IDEA conference program five years ago. But here they are, new friends and allies.
The IDEA board recently concluded an interesting strategic planning process to identify key trends and understand the changes that impact its mission as an industry. The goal was to determine how IDEA should embrace this flurry of change and how it should work with the many new players advocating for district energy.
The IDEA determined it needs to stay on message and be the industry voice. If it does not do so, others will fill the void. It needs to strengthen the many positive alliances that support its message and be opportunistic when circumstances are presented to partner strategically.
Change is in the air, and the district energy industry must embrace this change and lead our communities and campuses to a more sustainable energy future.