I started my professional career as an electrical engineer designing infrastructure projects. The work was challenging and rewarding as I worked on complex projects around the globe. While I enjoyed solving technical challenges, what motivated me the most was collaborating with my talented colleagues to deliver exceptional results.
The people side of the business is what continues to motivate me today. With the busy holiday season upon us, I want to pause in consideration of the people that make this work so rewarding and who help us to be successful in our mission. I want to say thank you to our customers, our partners, and our team.
To the people that we serve, our customers, thank you for continuing to put your trust in us to provide you with reliable heating and cooling services. District energy works best when the buildings and the energy system that serves them are working together. The efficiency, reliability, and cost-effectiveness of the heating and cooling systems is a result of collaborating with our customers to implement best practices for the system and the buildings. As evidenced by the 83 operating engineers that attended our annual training in October, many of you are committed to continuous system improvement to get the most out of your buildings and the system. The entire team at District Energy takes great pride in serving the needs of our customers. Our team thanks you for your business.
As the Saint Paul building market has evolved, we have responded with solutions that meet the changing needs of our customer base, including new potential customers and the emerging residential market. As downtown continues to grow, we are committed to working with our current customers as well as new developers in the market to help them determine their best energy solutions. Growing our customer base lowers costs for all of our customers, so we are excited to see the continued activity downtown and new prospects for customer projects and developments. As you are working on projects, please give us a call, and our outstanding engineering staff will help you to generate ideas and work through options at no cost. The earlier you engage our team in the process, the more value we can provide.
Thank you to our partners that serve, support, and help us to grow our business. Many of our partners have buildings on the system. We also work with organizations and individuals who have an interest in the vibrancy of Saint Paul as well as broader concerns about sustainability and our collective energy future. To all of these partners, thank you for the myriad of ways that you support our work, including your collaboration in advancing the big ideas that impact Saint Paul and Minnesota.
Of course, our exceptional service and community connections could not be possible without the dedicated team at District Energy. We have had another great year of service with a constant eye on reliability, efficiency and optimization, and healthy system growth. Each team member helps to drive our success, and I am grateful for the dedication, passion, and professionalism that they bring to our work each day.
Downtown Saint Paul Building Engineers Attend Seminar
In October, we hosted over 80 engineers from our customer buildings for the annual Operating Engineers Seminar. Engineers Jeff Volovsek and Bob Ford are familiar with the mechanical systems in customer buildings, and they presented information and solutions to answer some of the most common questions from customers. Seminar topics included troubleshooting system performance, chilled water Delta T, hot water efficiency, and water treatment. If you have questions about your District Energy mechanical interface, you can contact Jeff and Bob for assistance by calling 651.297.8955.
The presentation from the event is available here. The seminar discussion has spurred more ideas for future training. If you attended, there is still time to fill out the event survey, which will influence our customer programming. Thank you to all who attended.
SciGirls Visit the RiverCentre Solar Installation
A group of 15 members of SciGirls spent the day learning about energy with us on October 11. SciGirls is an educational group that reinforces science skills for middle school girls (ages 9-13) and introduces them to STEM opportunities. The girls started their day by learning about wind farms and then designing and building their own wind demonstration projects out of office supplies. After the students presented their projects to the group, our own Nina Axelson introduced them to the concepts of district energy, biomass-fired combined heat and power, and solar thermal technology. We had a little help with our lesson thanks to this great video we produced in partnership with the Saint Paul Saints. The SciGirls had a great time going on the roof of the RiverCentre to see the solar installation close up. It was fun to host this vibrant group of girls who are so excited about energy. Read more about the day on the SciGirls blog.
Over the next few newsletters, we would like to help connect you to more information about your district energy service connection and what benefits it provides to your building, your tenants, and your stakeholders. This month we will start with some community benefits and the advantages of eliminating on-site energy production.
District energy is a globally recognized approach to saving energy, reducing carbon emissions, and for creating opportunities to integrate renewables into smart thermal and electric grids. Buildings connected to district energy networks benefit from decreased capital investments for individual building production equipment, decreased maintenance, decreased stress on valuable building space, and ease of use for operations and permitting.
District energy systems deliver thermal energy through steam, hot water, or chilled water that can be used for heating or cooling space and equipment, domestic hot water, and process heating and cooling. By connecting buildings together, customers can eliminate their on-site equipment, including boilers, hot water heaters, and chillers, as well as cooling towers and smokestacks. By reducing energy production assets, customers reduce their up-front capital costs for equipment as well as ongoing maintenance tasks and expenses. If you have five buildings that get their domestic hot water from a district energy system, you have eliminated five individual water heaters that require inspection, repair, and replacement.
District energy customers are relieved of the burden of energy production, which is now managed by the district energy operations team that monitors production 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Additionally, operating the building-side mechanical equipment and controls are simpler than on-site energy production. While the building-side mechanical equipment is sized relative to the building’s needs, it traditionally requires less square footage than energy production equipment. This means district energy customers can utilize more of their real estate for their primary mission. District energy networks are also more reliable than stand-alone building systems that rely on limited equipment assets. Customers that receive energy from a district energy system also eliminate the need for on-site fuel delivery, on-site combustion, cooling towers, smokestacks, and required licensing and permitting.
A district energy system can more easily integrate new fuels and new technology than on-site equipment. When you purchase on-site equipment you are married to the fuel and technology for the life of the equipment. A district system can integrate renewable fuel or energy like biomass, waste heat, and solar. District systems frequently integrate thermal storage that acts like a large-scale battery, which would not be practical for individual buildings. When paired with renewable energy sources and efficient technologies, such as combined heat and power, district energy becomes a key approach to increase energy efficiency and reduce carbon in our communities.
15th Annual Intercity Leadership Visit – Baltimore, Maryland
In October, 95 civic and business leaders from Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and surrounding suburbs, traveled to Baltimore, Maryland, for the 15th Annual Intercity Leadership Visit. The Minneapolis and Saint Paul Chambers of Commerce host this annual trip to study challenges in other urban centers. Last year the group traveled to Seattle and previous study trips have included San Francisco, Denver, Portland, Austin, Charlotte, Atlanta, Toronto, San Diego, and Boston.
This visit was particularly important as the delegation examined the effects of institutional racism on the communities of Baltimore. Clearly the impacts have been far-reaching, particularly after the Freddie Grey incident that caused so much unrest in the city. The delegation met with leaders from across the city, representing health care, education, housing, economic development, and other sectors. One of the most commonly cited challenges was access to transportation, which disconnected people from available jobs. There is clearly a lot on the line in Baltimore as the city and its partners work to rebuild infrastructure and make investments into helping communities and the next generation, and there was much to consider for how these lessons could be considered in Minnesota.
District Energy St. Paul has been participating in the ICLV program for several years, joining others from the region interested in fundamental civic topics. We have also participated to learn from other utilities and leaders about saving energy, reducing energy costs, and improving the environmental profile of operations. It also gives us the opportunity to better understand how policies and partnerships are delivering economic growth, increasing opportunities for diversity in the workforce, and making the right investments into local education, among other important matters in other regions. Each time we have visited a new city, we have taken lessons back to help our organization and strengthened regional relationships that enable us to with partners to better our city and our region. Special thanks to the trip organizers, sponsors, and the Minneapolis and Saint Paul Chambers for making this trip possible.