Here we have a master thesis of Genevieve Rose Sherman at MIT. To better understand the challenges that commercial districts, aka downtowns, face with the implementation of shared energy systems, her research assessed the feasibility of 2 types of operation models and provided case study analyses of 2 cities: a proposed district energy system in Portland, OR and a proposed microgrid in Stamford, CT.
Why is operational model important? Unlike institutional shared energy systems (aka colleges, hospitals, and military campus), there are many more difficult questions and barriers that commercial districts face. There are multiple properties and multiple property owners involved; local utility rights may come into play; public right of way issues exist; and creating an organizational structure to manage the system can be a political mess.
Sherman’s thesis examines the 2 different types of models used in the mentioned case studies. There’s the joint-cooperative model and the independent provider model. In the JCM, the participating properties create a jointly owned, operated, and managed energy system. In the IPM, an independently owned and operated system (usually a 3rd party like a utility company or a non-profit agency) serves the district properties.
In Portland, the Rose Quarter district had an existing system that was created as an IPM, and for the most part worked well because all the conditions were right. The problem came when the district energy system was to be expanded into neighboring Lloyd district, where the IPM was not well accepted. The contrast of the 2 districts is the RQ had a small handful of property owners who had for a long time been the owners of most of the participating properties within the district…Lloyd is practically the opposite, so it is likely a hybrid model will develop.
Stamford was one of the first cities to establish an Energy Improvement District in their downtown after Connecticut passed legislation to allow such. The city contracted an independent provider to design, build, own, operate, and finance their microgrid, and they did so because the city did not have the financial resources, staff capacity, or technical expertise.