If you're interested in the alternative energy space, I recommend hitting the earth2tech site from time to time for news on everything from clean power to the smart grid. It's particularly good for news on start ups and M&A activities.
In a report today, Justin Moresco talks about Veola Energy North America's purchase of a district cooling system in Baltimore.
Two things struck me about the story.
First, this is only the second district cooling plant that I have heard of in the US - the other is in downtown Austin, TX. I've been wondering why there aren't more district heating and cooling plants, and why utilities aren't all over this as a business opportunity (both the Baltimore and Austin systems are run by local utilities).
It seems to me that utilities have only limited opportunities for growth, and many of those opportunities are hampered by regulatory constraints. Getting into appliance sales, leasing, and servicing, for example, is generally out of bounds for this reason. But building utility infrastructure, delivering steam, hot water, or chilled water, looks a lot like traditional utility business that a regulator could understand and allow.
The other item of note is that the Baltimore system (run by Comfort Link) will be getting a thermal storage system upgrade. This technology has the benefit of shifting energy use to off-peak periods, where costs are lower, and typically the environmental footprint of the power is cleaner.
(Justin writes that the systems are more energy efficient, but that is very rarely true. Running chiller plants in off-peak hours is somewhat more efficient due to cooler condensing conditions, but thermal losses in storage typically outweigh those modest gains.)
I've been noting the potential for thermal storage systems to have great applicability for data centers, providing operating savings, and perhaps capex reductions and improved reliability. I'll be exploring that further in a white paper.
In the meantime, hooking a data center into a district cooling system may have additional benefits, particularly from a reliability standpoint. May be worth some additional investigation!