By Jens Ole Hansen, Global Market Director, Ramboll
Modern European thin-wall pipe technology currently costs up to 50% more to implement in the USA than in Europe. This fact is holding back ambitious campuses from implementing low temperature hot water. This is unfortunate because low temperature district energy is one of the most efficient tools to reach carbon targets, increase resiliency, prepare for future campus electrification and to utilize renewable energy sources.
Ramboll and four US universities decided to try to solve this complex puzzle.
THE PROJECT AIM The team strongly believes that district energy is one of the most powerful (and overlooked) technologies to reduce the cost of energy and decrease carbon emissions. District energy is the hidden backbone of any livable low carbon campus, due to its ability to use low grade energy sources for useful energy supply. If the technology is not available for cities and campuses in the US, the development of smart grids/smart energy systems/community systems will struggle. The aimof this project is to fuel the development and identification of measures to create and improve district energy systems in campus areas, provide resilience for the consumers, contribute to environment conscience initiatives in the US and improve long term metropolitan quality of life and overall global health. The short-term measurable target for the project is to find ways to reduce the implementation cost of hot water systems by up to 25%. In the long run, we hope that our findings will impact the feasibility of downtown city projects as well, although cities are not addressed directly in this project. THE IDENTIFIED CHALLENGES Reaching the benchmark cost numbers of Europe is not easy and there is no quick fix. If there were, it would have been done years ago. The team has selected to work on these four challenges: • Institutional: Today, modern hot water networks should be built according to the European standard in the USA (because US standards are not hot water district heating specific and therefore miss out on efficiency). • Technical: Marrying European solutions with American traditions. We aim to answer the most pressing technical question of how to tie in low temperature hot water with US HVAC systems. • Business: Work on the risk sharing system and procurement system. We aim to develop business models which mitigate the risk for the owner, investor and contractor. • Sustainability: Document the potential carbon emission impact of hot water systems in the USA through modernized hot water district heating for campuses.
BACKGROUND Ramboll has worked and works on a number of steam-to-hot water network conversions in the USA and Canada. Working with cost estimators, consultants, manufactures and contractors it has become clear that the cost of putting pipes in the ground is much higher compared to our benchmark numbers from Europe… and we have found no quick fixes. Ramboll therefore decided to bring four interested universities together to try to identify and solve some of the challenges. The Ramboll Foundation decided to co-fund the project as the main contributor with Ramboll Energy and the universities providing expertise and valuable time to address the challenges. THE FOUR CAMPUSES The team was set-up to have a wide range of knowledge, but also to represent different stages of development and solutions regarding climate change and specifically district energy. The four universities are: • Dartmouth College, NH: Dartmouth College is working on their future energy supply configuration. A campus wide steam-to-hot-water conversion is part of their master plan. Dartmouth College is leading the liveable campus project. • University of Bridgeport, CT: The University of Bridgeport only has a small hot water system, but the fuel-cell driven system has capacity for expansion. • Massachusets Institute of Technology, MA: MIT has already converted a small part of the campus to hot water and is investigating further conversions. However, the complexity of putting pipes in the ground in a condense city like Cambridge is a challenge. • University of Rochester, NY: UR has already converted most of their campus. UR hands-on experience and knowledge is valuable to this project as a result. All universities will include students in the project. This will hopefully increase the awareness of district energy in the academic parts of the universities.
In addition, DTUDenmark is providing inspirational presentations at selected workshops.
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