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Boston community energy study taps innovation experts to establish roadmap for local energy solutions reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing resliiency

February 10, 2016

Mayor's Office

Published by:

Mayor's Office

Community energy projects could provide over $1 billion in community benefits and savings over 25 years. The city will provide follow-on technical assistance to communities through DOE partnership. 

The City of Boston in partnership with Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) released the Boston Community Energy Study (BCES) today. The study is a starting point to help Boston stakeholders better understand the potential for community energy solutions and identifies specific project opportunities to reduce costs, greenhouse gas emissions and make Boston's energy system more resilient.  

The study was a collaborative effort with the MIT School of Architecture and Planning's Sustainable Design Lab, MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Google's Project Sunroof and Eversource. Funding and technical support was provided from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center along with funding from the Barr Foundation, the US Department of Energy and the US Department Homeland Security.  

"We see great potential in community energy solutions to provide low-cost and cleaner energy while also improving resiliency," said Mayor Martin J. Walsh. "This study is a critical step in understanding the benefits of these new approaches and laying out a roadmap to engage the many important stakeholders in the City of Boston."  

To further help communities pursue potential projects identified in the study, the City will be able to arrange technical assistance through a partnership with the US Department of Energy (DOE) called the Climate Action Champions program. Through the program, the City will be able to connect property owners with experts that perform no-cost feasibility studies for combined heat and power for district energy loops and microgrids.   

"Community energy solutions such as targeted energy efficiency, district energy, microgrids, local energy generation and energy storage represent an opportunity to fundamentally change the way our energy system works," added Austin Blackmon, Chief of Energy, Environment, and Open Space for Boston, "but to get there we need a better understanding of the existing system and a way to identify the most promising solutions."  

In order to understand the potential for these types of solutions, the City needed much more precise data on how energy is consumed in the City. However, gathering data for every building's energy consumption for each hour of the day all year long would be a prohibitive task. Therefore, the City turned to MIT's Sustainable Design Lab to build a first of its kind energy model for the City. Eversource furthered this effort by providing energy-use data that was used to calibrate the model.

"The City of Boston rightfully understands the potential of community energy systems and the daunting task of assembling enough data to assess the best approaches," said Christoph Reinhart, Associate Professor at the Sustainable Design Lab and one of the authors of the report. "To solve this problem, we built a first of its kind model that allows us to simulate the energy consumption of every building in the City."  

Once the City had the baseline findings from the MIT model and calibrated it with data from Eversource, the next challenge was to understand what kind of solutions would be appropriate based on the energy consumption patterns that they discovered. To do this, the City turned to researchers at MIT Lincoln Laboratory, who used a software model called Distributed Energy Resources Customer Adoption Model (DER-CAM), developed to evaluate similar energy solutions for military bases. The Laboratory ran several different scenarios, some looking at maximizing the reduction of costs and others at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  

"We were able to help the City understand the viability of different solutions in driving down costs and emissions," said Eric Limpaecher, Assistant Group Leader of the Energy Systems Group MIT Lincoln Laboratory and another one of the authors of the report. "From this analysis, the City has now identified 42 different "hot spots" that represent the most viable opportunities for deployment of new community energy systems."  

Using simulations and parameters from the MIT model, the BRA Research Division further evaluated the potential costs and benefits of the community energy solutions under the two scenarios: One for maximizing reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and the other to maximize costs savings. For each scenario MIT's LL provided upfront capital and long-term maintenance costs, which were compared to the reduced energy costs and GHG emissions benefits for residential, commercial and municipal consumers. The potential total benefits for both consumers and the City-at-large for the two scenarios ranged between $600 million and $1.7 billion over the 25 year analysis period. While more complete analysis is needed and much remains to be learned, the initial indicators are very positive.  

The City also wanted to take a closer look at the potential to deploy solar energy through a new approach called Community Solar, where consumers without the appropriate space to site a system can get access to solar energy through a shared community system. To do this, the City turned to Google's Project Sunroof.  "Community Solar is an emerging business model for larger solar installations," said Carl Elkin, Engineering Lead for Project Sunroof. "Google Project Sunroof leveraged their rooftop-solar potential data set to show BRA where community-scale solar installations are most feasible."  

"Identifying proper locations for clean community energy systems can help communities meet clean energy, resiliency and energy cost savings goals," said MassCEC Interim CEO Stephen Pike. "We are proud to support the City of Boston's innovative approach to mapping these opportunities, as it will provide lessons for municipalities around the Commonwealth."  

Looking forward, the City plans to convene relevant stakeholders for the most promising projects that are identified in the study to discuss their viability and potential implementation. "The successful deployment of these new approaches will require the input of a wide range of stakeholders from consumers and utilities to technology companies and community leaders," said Brian Golden, Director of the BRA, "and we plan to act as a convener to bring all the players together."