Q: What is the International District Energy Association?

A: The International District Energy Association (IDEA) is a nonprofit industry association, founded in the United States in 1909, today with 1700 members in 25 countries who own, operate or provide technology and services to district energy systems that supply steam, hot water, chilled water and energy services to multiple buildings in cities, communities, campuses, airports, military bases, industry and healthcare facilities. IDEA members have extensive experience in highly reliable thermal networks, combined heat and power, thermal storage and clean energy management to optimize energy efficiency, emissions reductions and sustainable solutions for mission-critical and community-scale markets.


Q: How do I join IDEA? Click here for membership information.


Q: How do I obtain the IDEA Member credentials-username and password-needed to access the Members area of the IDEA website?

A: Access to this exclusive area of the website is provided only to IDEA Members. The Members' area includes contact information for all members, downloadable IDEA logos for Member use, recent PowerPoint presentations in native PowerPoint, etc.  To safeguard access, IDEA Members are sent their login username and password by email automatically when joining IDEA. These credentials are automatically generated by our membership system. To maintain security, they cannot be changed by the Member. For this reason, we strongly encourage Members to record this information for future use. If you are an IDEA Member and do not know your login credentials, or have misplaced them, please contact IDEA by email or phone and we will provide them to you.


Q: What is district energy?

A: District Energy is heating, and/or cooling, and/or CHP for an entire university, office park, medical campus, mixed use sustainable development, or downtown. There are over 700 district energy systems in the U.S. District energy systems produce thermal energy—steam, hot water or chilled water—and sometimes also electricity at a central plant and then pipe the hot and/or chilled water and steam and distribute the electricity through a micro-grid to buildings in the district for space heating, domestic hot water heating, air conditioning and power. Individual buildings in a district energy system don't need their own boilers or furnaces, chillers or air conditioners. A district energy system does that work for them. District energy is not a new technology. It is not a technology we have to wait to test or to research. It is here today, it works today, and it holds great promise for our nation and other nations around the world.


Q: What is Combined Heat and Power?

A: Combined heat and power, often referred to by the acronym "CHP" – also called "cogeneration" – is the simultaneous production of electricity and useful thermal energy for heating or cooling from a single fuel source. CHP can provide needed energy services in one energy-efficient step. Today it supplies over 10% of our nation's electricity.

CHP  is a way to increase the efficiency of power plants. Standard power plants effectively use less than 40 percent of the energy in the fuel they burn to produce electricity. Sixty percent or more of the energy used in the electric production process ends up being rejected or "wasted" up the smokestack.

CHP uses this reject heat in a process often termed "waste heat recovery" to heat buildings in a surrounding area through a district energy system. It may also be used to produce more electricity or cooling. CHP is only possible when there is an area near the plant that has a need for the heat – a downtown area, a college campus or a industrial development.

If one of our nation's energy challenges is lack of power, what if we doubled the efficiency of as many power plants as possible and got more energy for every gallon of oil or ton of coal they burn? Combined heat and power can help us do just that – and even help the environment in the process since less heat and fewer emissions will be rejected into the atmosphere. District cooling systems displace peak electric power demand with steam-based cooling, district cooling, and thermal storage using ice or chilled water.


Q: What is a microgrid?

A: A microgrid is a local electric system or combined electric and thermal system that:

  • Includes retail load and the ability to provide energy and energy management services needed to meet a significant proportion of the included load on a non-emergency basis;
  • Can operate either in parallel or in isolation from the electrical grid; and
  • When operating in parallel, can provide some combination of energy, capacity, ancillary or related services to the grid.Microgrids are a growing segment of the energy industryand represent a paradigm shift from remote central station power plants toward more localized, distributed generationfor enhanced reliability, resiliency and energy efficiency,especially in cities, communities and campuses. 

Q: What are some of the benefits of district energy?

A: The beauty of a district energy system is that since it serves many customers from one location, it can accomplish things individual buildings usually cannot. For instance, district energy systems can use a variety of conventional fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas, whichever fuel is most competitive at the time. And because of a district energy system’s size, the district energy plant can also transition to use renewable fuels such as biomass, geothermal, and combined heat and power. Buildings connected to district energy systems also have lower capital costs for their energy equipment because they don't need conventional boilers and chillers. They save valuable upfront dollars they can invest elsewhere. Plus, they save building space that can be used for other more valuable purposes.

Building owners and managers can count on district energy systems since energy professionals operate around-the-clock and have backup systems readily available. Most district energy systems operate at a reliability of "five nines" (99.999 percent). To IDEA’s knowledge, there have been no rolling "heat-outs" related to district energy systems!

Demand chart

The diagram shows an actual district cooling customer's electric demand profile compared with a standard electric power plant. (click on diagram for larger image)
In addition (see graph above), district energy systems benefit the local power grid by reducing peak power demand and alleviating power congestion due to power transmission limitations, particularly in cities. So district energy not only helps heat and cool cities, it also helps alleviate the challenges posed by high electric consumption.


Q: Why haven't I heard of district energy?

A: Many people may not be familiar with district energy because it quietly does its job with rarely a crisis to report. Plus, the pipes that deliver the steam, hot water and/or chilled water are usually buried underneath streets, so most people don't know they are there.


Q: What is Waste Heat Recovery?

A: Waste Heat Recovery is the capture of waste heat from a heating system, an industrial facility or pipeline compressor station and the conversion of the waste heat into clean electricity or useful thermal energy.

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