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Incorporating District Energy at the Design Stage of a Project Yields Greatest Savings


Article taken from February 6, 2008, paper by Harry Ragsdale, Thermal Engineering Group, Inc.; updated July 2015.

Schermerhorn Symphony Center

There’s much to consider at the start of any new development project. But even as early as the design/conception stage, incorporating district heating and cooling services (DHC) can mean significant savings. As construction continues to boom in the Nashville area, the sooner the Metro Nashville District Energy System (DES) becomes part of the discussion, the better.

District energy systems feature a central plant where chilled water and steam are produced, and then piped to the customer underground. As a result, individual buildings served by the DES don’t need their own boilers, furnaces, chillers or air conditioners. The result is not only increased energy efficiency, but also easier operation and maintenance and greater reliability. From a financial standpoint, however, the most significant benefits come in the form of reduced capital costs and reduced operating costs.

Avoiding these capital costs early on may directly affect project viability. Designing DHC into the project from the start means the total building area can also be reduced. There’s no need to find space for chillers, cooling towers, or pumps and related piping and electrical associated with self-production equipment.

If DHC is presented as a post-design alternative the opportunities for cost savings may be greatly diminish. Larger utility infrastructure costs remain; structural systems relating to cooling towers and other central plant equipment will likely remain unchanged; and little credit, if any, is given for the elimination of space dedicated to in-building chillers, since the balance of the facility is often developed around the mechanical room envelope.

In addition, encouraging a designer or contractor involved in the project to transition from an already set in-building/self-generation system to DHC is no easy task. Dedesign cost may become significant and impact the project schedule.

In short, project owners and developers can benefit greatly by considering DHC at the earliest point in the project concept and design.

For more information about the services offered by the Nashville District Energy System to assist developers in this consideration, contact the NDES Project Administrator, Harry Ragsdale at 615-264-2611 or via email at