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District Energy

At the September 23, 2013 3rd Annual Global District Energy Climate Awards ceremony in New Your City, Cornell University's Utilities group was awarded the  2013 "Award of Excellence - Campus System".  Cornell was internationally recognized for its outstanding achievement in demonstrating local district energy leadership in providing clean, sustainable energy solutions to protect against the risk of climate change with the use of Lake Source Cooling and the Combined Heat and Power Plant.  More information about the award can be found at the International District Energy Association (IDEA) website.

Also, at its June 18 and 19th, 2001 Annual Meeting the International District Energy Association (IDEA) presented Cornell University's Utilities Department their 2001 System of the Year award. By an overwhelmingly unanimous vote, the Cornell campus chilled water (including Lake Source Cooling), central steam, and cogeneration (central heat and power) systems were recognized as the outstanding systems in the district energy industry in 2001.

District energy systems produce hot water, steam or chilled water at a central plant and then distribute the energy through underground pipes to buildings connected to the system. Individual buildings do not need boilers, chillers or cooling towers. Customers use the hot and chilled water to meet their space heating, water heating, processing and air-conditioning needs. Once used in customer buildings, the water is returned to the central plant to be reheated and rechilled and then recirculated through the closed-loop piping system.

District energy systems produce steam, hot water or chilled water at a central plant. The steam or water is then piped underground to individual buildings for or space heating, domestic hot water heating and air conditioning. As a result, individual buildings served by a district energy system don't need their own boilers or furnaces, chillers or air conditioners. The district energy system does that work for them, providing valuable benefits including:

  • Improved energy efficiency 
  • Enhanced environmental protection
  • Fuel flexibility 
  • Ease of operation and maintenance 
  • Reliability 
  • Comfort and convenience for customers 
  • Decreased life-cycle costs 
  • Decreased building capital costs 
  • Improved architectural design flexibility

Combined Heat and Power

Also known as cogeneration, combined heat and power is a way to increase the efficiency of power plants. Standard power plants effectively use just 40 percent of the fuel they burn to produce electricity. Sixty percent of the fuel used in the electric production process ends up being rejected or "wasted" up the smokestack, as shown here in this diagram from the International District Energy Association: http://www.districtenergy.org/assets/pdfs/ee_comparisons.pdf

This reject heat from a combined heat and power plant can be used to heat buildings in a surrounding area through a district energy system. Combined heat and power 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 an industrial development.

  • Click here for an interactive illustration by Greenpeace, UK. There is an embedded link in the illustration that demonstrates combined heat and power operations.

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. Learn about Cornell's combined heat and power plant here: http://energyandsustainability.fs.cornell.edu/util/heating/production/cep.cfm

Please visit the website of the International District Energy Association to learn more http://www.districtenergy.org/what-is-district-energy/.