Smart energy: Can district heating make cities more resilient?

Mon, 2013-06-03 13:21 -- Liz Enbysk

A few weeks back we mentioned a $100 million challenge by the Rockefeller Foundation to build resilient cities. In it we noted how cities today are largely unprepared to respond to, withstand and bounce back from disasters.

Just in the last few days in the U.S. we've witnessed the utter devastation caused by hurricanes slamming into Oklahoma.  But of course urban resilience is a challenge for cities all around the world. That's why we thought it worthwhile to highlight the story below that explains why proponents of district energy are touting it as a way to improve resilience.


District energy and its cousin combined co-generation have found astonishing success in places like Denmark, but never caught on in North America. Advocates have long trumpeted them because of their energy efficiency. But now proponents are talking about district energy – basically small-scale power networks that produce cooling, heating and power locally and distribute it to nearby buildings - as a way to improve resilience.

The Sustainable Cities Collective has just posted a helpful article on district energy and microgrids, focusing on the ways cities can spur them along. As the article points out, a number of cities have initiatives underway to study district energy and microgrids as a way to enhance the resilience of energy services during severe weather events. No surprise that New York – where residents are still recovering from the impact of Hurricane Sandy so many months later -- is among them.

But as the article points out, district energy is struggling "because market pressure to develop has outpaced regulatory reform, capital availability and public awareness." How can city governments help?  It suggests education and outreach, as well as incentive programs and credit enhancements.

Adds the author, Ajay Prasad, Managing Director of India Investments at Taurus Investment Holdings in Boston: "Capitalizing on local energy generation keeps power tariffs local, enhances workforce development and provides resilient energy supply to firms. The economic losses during Hurricane Sandy were tremendous, much of which was due to business downtime. The more businesses are competitive and resilient, the more competitive a city will be in attracting and retaining talent."

Don’t miss this case study: "A Cool Greener Life" for Singapore's First Multi-Plant District Cooling Network

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