According to the National Electrical Manufacturer’s Association, inefficiencies transmission and distribution of energy cost approximately $19.5 billion per year in the US. This process, includes all of the steps between power generation at a plant to end-use site consumption. Much of this power loss is through resistance in the wires and equipment, converted to heat. Congestion is another important consideration resulting from physical capacity constraints and bulk power transactions, which according to the PJM grid, costing 7-10% of total billings.
For the end user, this might not mean much other than higher monthly costs that get passed on in the shape of transmission fees. On the other hand, the way we transmit power (through electric lines), impacts the way our communities are shaped (where the lines go and how accessible and visible they are). Every storm event, especially when winds are present, the limitations of a large scale transmission network are felt. Lines down create havoc for the system, even if you are nowhere near the problem.
This is where district scale energy distribution comes in. Localizing power supply makes it easier to target problems, limiting the radius of users impacted, while also limiting the amount of energy lost through transmission. Less distance equals less loss. EcoDistricts list this as a key way to “build neighborhoods from the ground up.” As they go on to say, “If you want to empower vibrant cities for all, it starts from the neighborhood up.”
The EPA’s Smart Growth Implementation Assistance project notes, District-scale energy systems can achieve economies of scale by combining the needs of multiple buildings to attain benefits for individual property owners and the larger community. Developers, property owners, and building managers can save money on energy, have a more reliable system, and avoid having to operate and maintain heating and cooling systems in each individual building. The community as a whole can benefit from these systems because they can lower greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution, use more renewable energy sources, encourage new development in existing neighborhoods, and help achieve other community and environmental goals.
For one more resource, Energy.gov highlighted neighborhood scale energy intervention case studies in a presentation called, “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood“.