Boston: A Model for the Emerging Distributed Energy Paradigm

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Boston is a city at the forefront of district energy and combined heat and power use. So it’s a fitting gathering spot for government and industry leaders next month who will look at the paradigm shift from central generation to distributed energy.

IDEA2015, a conference sponsored by the International District Energy Association June 28-July 1, will offer insight for cities seeking ways to gain greater control over their energy use and production.

While the concept of local energy is just catching on in many cities, Boston offers examples of the technologies in practice.

IDEA2015 will be held June 28-July 1 in Boston.

Known for its universities and hospitals — institutions with heavy demand for heat and highly reliable power — the greater Boston area is a natural fit for district energy, CHP and emerging microgrids.

“There is a lot of activity in greater Boston. By our count nearly 400 MW of district energy and CHP are in design or development,” said Rob Thornton, IDEA president and CEO.

He added. “What’s really driving it is a desire for greater resiliency, reliability, efficiency and carbon mitigation.”

Boston is making these technologies “a functional component” of city infrastructure, which increases the city’s competitive position when trying to attract high value industry, Thornton said.

With its marquee energy facilities, the Boston area serves as an excellent mentor city for others, particularly older, dense, urban environments.

Among those facilities are energy networks operated by Veolia, which  serve about 250 commercial and government buildings, hospitals, universities and other institutions. The network spans 45 million square feet in Boston and the Longwood Medical Area as well as the biotechnology corridor of Cambridge.

The Veolia network includes the 256-MW CHP Kendall Station, a large supplier of steam to Boston.  Veolia also operates the Medical Area Total Energy Plant (MATEP), which supplies power, HVAC, heating and cooling systems, sterilization and specialist heating, refrigeration, and medical vacuum for the six hospitals that feature more than 2,000 beds and serve 85,000 inpatients and 50,000 outpatients a year.

Veolia expects its facilities to result in a six percent reduction of non-transportation carbon emissions in Boston and Cambridge

Other marquee facilities include:

  • The Biogen Campus in Cambridge, which includes a 5.4 MW gas turbine, a heat recovery boiler, two dual fuel boilers, and 1,800-tons of absorption chillers.
  • Harvard University’s Blackstone Steam Plant, which is adding a 7 MW CHP and microgrid to a its infrastructure, which dates to 1906.
  • Tufts University 4 MW CHP project, which is under development to replace a 60-year-old facility and provide power, steam, and hot and chilled water.

IDEA2015 will offer technical tours of several of the facilities, as well as panel discussions with government and industry leaders. Sessions will focus on a range of topics, among them policy, finance and best practices in developing, owning and operating district energy, combined heat and power, and microgrids in cities.

The six-day conference and trade show is expected to draw global energy leaders from North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East show. The program includes several networking opportunities.

Most IDEA2015 events will be held at the John P. Hynes Convention Center in Boston. Program details and registration information are available here. will be at IDEA2015. Subscribe to our newletter and read our conference coverage.

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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of She has been writing about energy for more than three decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.


  1. Thomas Sutrina says:

    This is not a new idea. Dow chemical in the 70s had an agreement with a Nuclear power plant to supply steam (heat) to the Midland MI plant so they modified the turbine to accomplish his. Sad to say that the plant did not even come close to the start up date. I do not know the outcome. But the important piece of information is that steam is the best media to transfer heat to those building and the longer the distances the higher the steam pressure and temperature is needed to do it efficient and cost effectively.


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