The Next 100 Years
David W. Wade, PE, President, RDA Engineering Inc.
industry’s most prestigious system operators.
Who wasn’t there? Representatives from
cities with no district heating systems, colleges
without central cooling, state administrators
who operate government building complexes,
large-scale developers, and regulators who
can require CHP system development.
Who wasn’t at the conference?
Representatives from cities with
no district heating systems,
colleges without central cool-
ing, state administrators who
operate government building
Editor's Note: "Members Speak Out" runs
in each issue 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. Please email comments to David
Wade at email@example.com.
Earlier this summer IDEA met in Wash- ington to celebrate its 100th anniversary. The conference was truly amazing
and boasted our largest attendance ever.
Hats off to Rob and the IDEA staff for the
hard work that went into planning and
executing the gala celebration.
The speakers at this year’s conference
looked back at the association’s accomplishments, informed us of current events
and outlined the changing nature of the
energy industry. Several speakers projected
plans for the future. We were honored to
have U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
speak to attendees at our annual luncheon.
It was gratifying to have a member of the
administration’s Cabinet address our industry
with such positive comments. I especially
enjoyed being in Washington, D.C., where
so many decisions are made that greatly
influence our industry. Our board should
consider holding the annual meeting in
Washington every other year to ensure
closer contact with the agencies we respond
to and depend on.
reveals a roller-coaster ride for our industry.
The first four decades were a time of growth
and district heating system adoption in
many cities across the country. After World
War II, however, interest in district heating
waned, and the number of systems declined
as natural gas became a dominant fuel and
the technology of boilers, pumps, etc., made
individual building systems more practical.
In the 1960s, utility district cooling was
implemented for the first time in Hartford,
Conn. This concept grew in several other
cities and on many college campuses where
service to multiple buildings considered
life-cycle costs. The ’70s and ’80s brought
uncertainties of fuel supply, environmental
concerns, deregulation and a general volatility
in energy services industries. The past decade
has seen the adoption of district cooling on
a large scale in the Middle East, renewed
interest in combined heat and power, and
in many cases, disassociation of district heating systems from regulated electric utilities.
The lesson we can all learn from this
history is that the next 100 years will likely be
a continuing roller-coaster ride for the industry
– albeit, let’s hope, to even higher levels.
I think back to conferences in the 1980s
when there were conference attendees who
attended in order to learn about district
heating and cooling and how it could be
applied in their own communities – New
Orleans, Orlando, Phoenix, Rochester and
Chicago come to mind. Some of those
communities went on to host new or revitalized district heating and cooling systems,
while others, put off by the complexities and
costs, shelved the idea for a future time.
In the 1990s, a few representatives
from Middle Eastern countries ventured to
IDEA meetings to learn about district cooling
technology. They took home ideas from our
conferences and have applied the technique
on a scale that is unprecedented.
How Far Industry Has Come
Looking back over IDEA’s first 100 years
Who Should Be
in the Game?
As IDEA gathered to mark this first
100-year milestone, there were many familiar
faces – owners and operators of heating
and cooling systems from major U.S. cities
and large college campuses, General Services
Administration representatives, numerous
consultants and equipment suppliers to the
The Road Ahead
So where does IDEA go from here? I
believe it is time to reach out to cities and
city planners. We could offer a track for
organizations like the National League of
Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors,
which in times past showed interest in
district energy programs to benefit their
urban downtowns. We could also encourage
our existing utility members to bring a local
developer or city planner to our meetings.
Why not ask our college members to mentor
and bring a sister college that does not have
district energy but that could benefit from
a new central chilled-water system or low-temperature hot water heating? Finally, I
would like to see us make contact with all
50 state public utility commissions to reinforce
the idea of CHP as essential to energy effi-