Our former Managing Editor Julia Levitt has a great interview up on MetropolisMag.com with Liz Dunn, a developer, urban policy consultant, head of the Preservation Green Lab, and one of Alex's heroes. In the interview Julia and Ms. Dunn discuss the Lab’s vision for district energy, and its work to craft policies that will help put historic districts on a new path to sustainability.
District energy has been around for years. Why is there such renewed interest now?
District energy systems effectively take the hot water heaters and gas boilers out of a bunch of buildings and replace them with a big one at the neighborhood level. The nice thing about that big central plant is this: As better equipment and better low-carbon fuels become available, you replace your fuel source and/or the technology in one step, and you’ve upgraded the whole neighborhood. Improving the efficiency of a whole group of buildings together, at every change in the cycle, is a smarter use of money and space, and it takes the responsibility out of the hands of the individual property owners.
Also, an indirect benefit to district energy is the aggregation of building owners. Once a group of individual owners is organized and participating in a district energy system, they can use group purchasing power for other sustainable energy sources. The group could negotiate rates for green power, or a bulk purchase of solar panels to install on their roofs. Owners could pay into a fund to do a community storm water capture system or bioswale projects.
These reasons and others are fueling an “Eco District” movement around the country, led by several organizations that share the vision for improving energy efficiency and the sustainability of local economies at a district level. Pioneering work is being done by organizations including the Portland Sustainability Institute (PoSI) in Portland, Ore., Living City Block in Denver, and others. The Green Lab’s mission is to communicate why this makes sense for our older buildings in urban village communities and in small towns. Aggregation is how those neighborhoods full of great old buildings — the ones that are attracting people back into cities — will get to top energy performance.
An interesting article. Does this only work via government planning or has this been known to be driven by residents of the communities themselves? How much saving is actually made??