Time to Rev Up
David W. Wade, PE, President, RDA Engineering Inc.
Editor’s Note: “Members Speak Out” runs in
periodic issues of District Energy magazine. Its
purpose is for a member to briefly share his/her
district energy experiences and opinions – and
obtain feedback from fellow members. If you
have comments on this column, please email
David Wade at the address below – or email
IDEA with your response for publication in the
country, and district cooling systems have
been in operation for more than 50 years.
Although the industry declined after
World War II, interest has been renewed
in recent years due to rising fuel prices
and interest in combined heat and power.
Still, district systems are viewed by many
to be an outdated technology that has
changed little since its application a century
ago. By comparison, microturbines, fuel
cells, photovoltaics and wind energy are
When U.S. Department of Energy officials are asked about the lack of research
in the district energy area, their typical
response is, “There doesn’t seem to be any
interest.” In other words, our industry has
not put forth a research agenda and
requested help. It is our job to identify
areas needing research, identify benefits
available from successful research projects
and identify innovative and capable
researchers. With a research plan in hand,
we can request government funding and
build the public-private partnerships necessary to pay for research activities. It’s time
we identified areas where research could
help us, put together a research plan, collect the resources necessary and make old
district energy technology new again.
Record fuel prices and instability of
imported energy supplies have caused
Americans to embrace energy conservation ideas and search for new technologies that will provide reliable, stably
priced energy. In 2001, the Bush administration launched its energy policy at the
District Energy St. Paul system, hailing the
system as a model of energy efficiency
and energy diversity. Since then, the Bush
administration has reportedly spent nearly
$10 billion to develop cleaner energy
alternatives. But how much of that has
been spent on district energy?
Much of the money has been directed
at automobiles. Some has been directed at
clean coal research, which will benefit
large electric-generating stations. Other
funds are going to nuclear energy, where
plants will not be constructed near enough
to population centers to use waste heat,
and to other technologies such as fuel
cells, photocells and wind power, which
produce electricity. The 2005 Energy Act
provides subsidies for nuclear energy, a billion dollars for nuclear research, tax credits
for wind power and aggressive energy-reduction goals for federal facilities.
District heating systems have been
used for more than 100 years in this
What types of research could
benefit our industry and make
it more competitive?
David W. Wade, PE, is pres-
ident of RDA Engineering Inc.
in Atlanta and has been an
IDEA member for more than
20 years. He has served on
IDEA’s board and is a past
chairman of ASHRAE’s
national technical committees
dealing with Building Steam and Hot Water
Systems and District Heating and Cooling.
Wade may be reached at email@example.com.
Column also available at
seen as new technologies with substantial
growth potential and environmental benefits. Research to make these new technologies competitive is supported by
industrial groups, venture capitalists and
the federal government. The question for
the district energy industry is, Are we as
good as we can be? Can we compete
with new technologies?
It’s past time for IDEA members to
step back and think outside the box. What
types of research could benefit our industry and make it more competitive? Can we
provide better guidelines for planners and
engineers in the application of systems?
Are there new techniques in the application of district energy systems? Are new
materials available? Can we make installation techniques more efficient so that systems are less expensive? Can systems be
financed more creatively?
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