Energy Secretary Steven Chu Visits Thermal Energy Corporation

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Secretary Chu Tours State of the Art CHP and District Energy System Serving Texas Medical Center in Houston

Dr. Steven Chu speaks with Steve Swinson, President and CEO of Thermal Energy Corporation in Houston, Texas.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu is traveling across the country to highlight President Obama’s State of the Union address and affirm the Obama Administration’s commitment to American energy. On Thursday, February 2, Dr. Chu visited the Thermal Energy Corporation (TECO), the district energy company that provides heating and cooling to the Texas Medical Center in Houston, the largest medical center campus in the world.

“Dr. Chu’s decision to tour TECO’s district energy system and combined heat and power (CHP) plant validates how important these technologies are to our country’s energy future,” says Steve Swinson, CEO and President of TECO. “Dr. Chu fully understands the benefits of CHP – that it doubles energy efficiency and reduces emissions – and that a district energy system is what enables you to put the waste heat to good use. These proven technologies make economic sense right now, with no additional research necessary for implementation. Our hope is that TECO’s example encourages other communities and campuses to follow our path. District energy with combined heat and power really works.”

District energy systems like TECO produce steam, hot water and chilled water at a central plant for distribution through underground piping networks in cities, campuses and communities to multiple buildings for space heating, hot water and air conditioning. CHP – also known as cogeneration – allows recapture of heat produced when generating electricity that is normally exhausted as waste, to be used in a district energy system for heating or cooling multiple buildings. Robert Thornton, President and CEO, International District Energy Association (IDEA), states “District energy systems are clean energy infrastructure that are “built to last”. Today, hundreds of district energy systems operating in cities, campuses and communities across the US, have potential to add CHP, like TECO, and generate immediate energy, economic, and environmental benefits”.

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama stated, “I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy. Building this new energy future should be just one part of a broader agenda to repair America’s infrastructure. So much of America needs to be rebuilt. We’ve got crumbling roads and bridges; a power grid that wastes too much energy…” Through the Clean Energy Application Centers, the DOE is working with industry to double the amount of CHP in the US by 2030.    

TECO, a not-for-profit district energy company founded in 1969, recently completed a $377 million energy infrastructure expansion integrating 48 MW of CHP. TECO’s CHP plant now operates at efficiencies of 80 percent, more than twice as efficient as a typical utility generating station. The CHP project, which received a $10 million U.S. DOE American Recovery & Reinvestment Act award, will reduce carbon emissions by 75,000 tons a year and cut carbon dioxide emissions by more than 305,000 tons annually, when operating at full capacity. This is equivalent to taking 52,000 cars off the road. During his visit, Dr. Chu acknowledged the substantial energy efficiency benefits of CHP and district energy and noted, “Texas is a leader in oil, natural gas and wind power and with projects like TECO’s, Texas can also be a leader in efficient energy use.”

The Texas Medical Center in Houston houses 14 hospitals, 21 academic institutions, three medical schools and six nursing schools which have a combined $14 billion annual regional economic impact and serve 6 million patients each year. The energy-saving CHP system allows TECO to keep pace with the medical center’s rapid growth and ensure that the energy system supporting more than $1 billion in annual medical research remains highly reliable.

Secretary Chu’s visit to TECO reinforces key themes from the recent State of the Union address, particularly an emphasis on strong infrastructure as a tool to create new jobs and promote local energy use. President Obama stated his vision to “double-down on a clean energy industry that never has been more promising” and emphasized the value of infrastructure investments to “building [a] new energy future.” Steve Swinson of TECO understands the value of a good infrastructure investment—in its first year of operation, the new CHP system saved enough energy to return $9 million in operating savings to customers.

District energy systems, as vital energy infrastructure in most major U.S. cities and institutions, will be showcased in next week’s 25th Annual IDEA Campus Energy Conference, Innovations in Clean Energy, taking place in Arlington, VA.

The Opening Plenary Panel will feature discussion on the reliability, efficiency and cost benefits of state-of-the-art district energy and CHP systems. Panelists will include TECO CEO Steve Swinson, along with the Honorable Stephen Ayers, Architect of the US Capitol, who is planning installation of their own 18 MW CHP facility for the Capitol Power Plant that provides district energy services to the US Capitol; Supreme Court; Library of Congress and Senate and House office buildings on Capitol Hill. Also participating in the panel are Kathleen Hogan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Efficiency, EERE, U.S. Department of Energy; Sarah Dunham, Director of Atmospheric Programs at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); and senior energy executives from Cornell University, Princeton University, Texas A&M University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Over 620 attendees are registered.

For more information on district energy, CHP and IDEA, please visit

IDEA ( serves as a vital information hub for the district energy industry and combined heat and power industries, connecting industry professionals and advancing the technology around the world. With headquarters just outside of Boston, Mass., the 1,500-member IDEA was founded in 1909 and comprises district heating and cooling system executives, managers, engineers, consultants and equipment suppliers from 25 countries. IDEA supports the growth and utilization of district energy as a means to conserve fuel and increase energy efficiency to improve the global environment.

International District Energy Association
24 Lyman St. Suite 230
Westborough, MA 01581


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