The International District Energy Association’s (IDEA) 28th Annual Campus Energy Conference in Denver last week revealed a lot about our energy future. Microgrids, water use within energy systems, creative and expanded use of combined heat and power (CHP) and more topics all were featured during the conference.

Microgrid presentations covered applications in hospitals, universities, military installations, and federal laboratories. Integrating renewables into microgrids was also a featured element of these presentations. As microgrids continue gaining momentum, the technology and engineering capabilities have grown with them. The sustainability and resiliency benefits attributable to microgrids foster a greener environmental footprint and more dependable energy than grid-based systems.

Microgrids still need policy support, however. Exclusive electric service territories, standby rates and other barriers slow microgrid development. As regulators and legislators continue increase to their knowledge levels about the benefits and enhanced capabilities microgrids offer, that policy support is only a matter of time.

Water continues to grow in importance in the energy sector. Several presentations on water demonstrated the increased efficiency of water use and the use of recycled and re-used water, as well as rain-collected water. Increased water efficiencies will allow energy production to keep pace with demand and population growth, without adversely affecting the supply of water. One presentation calculated that water consumed by campus-based, CHP energy production facilities used over 37 million gallons per year less than had that same amount of energy been purchased from the grid.

The conference also highlighted CHP’s continued rise as an important component of microgrids and as a mechanism to optimize efficiencies in energy production. Great stories emerged about district energy systems using CHP. In addition to the water savings attributable to the campus-based CHP facilities referenced earlier, Burlington, Vermont, provided a terrific example of a situation where multiple parties coalesced around district energy with a CHP component. The system included biomass, too, which made for an even greener project.

As is custom, the conference concluded with technical tours. I attended a fantastic tour of the University of Colorado at Boulder’s (CU) new and old energy plants. The energy plants are very impressive and more can be learned about these plants by visiting IDEA’s website for the digital edition of District Energy magazine (email submission required) or downloading the DE Magazine app for iPad/iPhone, Android Phone or Kindle Fire.

IDEA’s 28th Annual Campus Energy Conference certainly revealed glimpses of our energy future. The increasing presence and technical capabilities of microgrids, greatly increased efficiencies in water use and continued importance of CHP demonstrate that our energy future shines brightly. Of course, many other presentations also allowed foresight into our energy future, including energy storage, resiliency strategies, and climate action plans. Many of the presentations can be accessed on IDEA’s website, which provides the next best-thing to actually being there.