Smart Energy Voices- Episode 64

Smart Energy Voices- Episode 64

Decarbonizing Thermal Loads: The Next Frontier 

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In this episode of Smart Energy Voices, host John Failla introduces Susan Corry of the University of Maryland College Park, David Reid of Celanese, and Peter Kelly-Detwiler of Smart Energy Decisions from a panel at Smart Energy Decisions’ recent Innovation Summit. These three leaders discuss decarbonizing thermal loads and how different types of organizations are facing this challenge.


You will want to hear this episode if you are interested in...

  • Hard-to-Abate emissions [02:09]
  • Susan Corry’s role at the University of Maryland [06:31]
  • David Reid’s role at Celanese [09:22]
  • Investigating new technologies [12:28]
  • Resources needed to move forward [15:00]
  • Enthusiasm and next steps [20:40]

Addressing the thermal challenge

Peter Kelly-Detwiler explains that thermal energy accounts for a quarter of our energy use and about half of our emissions. While hydrogen is clearly in the offing, other exciting technologies are emerging. A company in California just signed a lease with the U.S. government for the land where they’re going to put concentrating mirrors. The idea is to drive focused solar energy at mirrors with molten salt and generate either hydrogen or heat for thermal applications. Siemens has a project in Europe where they take wind energy and put it through resistors to warm up volcanic rock. Originally they were going to use that to generate steam and generate power. However, the roundtrip efficiencies were 30%. Now they’re pivoting to use that for thermal applications. 

The real challenge with any solution is if it can be scaled. Scaling would require first that the solution is viable and then that the economy of scale can be created while the technology improves. Unfortunately, applications aren’t one size fits all, and each situation may require different technology.

University of Maryland’s energy research

The University of Maryland is a flagship university within the state of Maryland. Every month, a number of the universities within the state of Maryland convene, calling themselves the Energy Committee. With each person’s partnership and relationship with various energy services companies, these meetings are an excellent opportunity to share information and discuss potential pilot projects. 

As a major research institution, the University of Maryland also has several faculty members who are researching thermal space in terms of energy-related technologies. At one point, the university had a professor growing a particular type of algae for carbon capture. Unfortunately, the economics were challenging to justify, even on a small scale, so it never gained legs. While a lot of technology is being explored, newer technologies won’t be proven without the finances devoted to development.

Celanese energy challenge

While some companies have a separate capital fund for sustainability or an internal cost of carbon, Celanese doesn’t have either yet. Its energy and sustainability efforts compete for capital along with every other project within the company. Funds are always a challenge, so Celanese is looking at alternatives in order to have projects justified within the company. Other financing options are sometimes available, and Celanese is trying to have an open mind to different opportunities. 

Energy efficiency is still the number one project for Celanese. Recently the company challenged its energy sites to develop a 30% reduction at its sites over a five-year period. Through this method, the company has found a lot of great projects, but some of them don’t have great paybacks.The challenge is to figure out how to make the projects look better financially or find different ways to acquire the money needed to do such a project.

Resources & People Mentioned:

Connect with Susan Corry

Susan Corry is the Director of Engineering and Energy at the University of Maryland College Park and has spent her career in the energy industry. Susan received her mechanical engineering degree from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and is a Certified Energy Manager, Certified Demand Side Manager, and Certified Existing Building Commissioning Professional. She began her career in the energy sector, working on energy and demand-side management programs with public utilities. She then moved into higher education, working for George Mason University, leading the development of long-term conservation plans to meet energy and carbon reduction goals. 

Susan moved on to the University of Maryland, where she is responsible for energy procurement, energy and carbon reduction plans, renewable energy strategies, building design standards, building performance, and management of the campus power plant. Susan leads the energy committee comprised of the University System of Maryland institutions and the Maryland Department of General Services, representing all other State agencies in energy-related matters. She has served on the advisory boards of the Maryland Clean Energy Center and Maryland Strategic Energy Investment Fund and was past chair of DOE’s Better Buildings Alliance Higher Education Steering Committee.

Connect with David Reid

David Reid is the Senior Manager, Global Energy and Productivity for Celanese. He is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Canada with a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Chemical Engineering and is a certified energy manager (CEM).

David has more than 30 years of manufacturing experience in polymer and chemicals industries. He has held positions in Process Control, Manufacturing Operations Leadership as well as global Operational Excellence responsibilities including his current role leading the Energy and Productivity programs for Celanese manufacturing sites worldwide.

Celanese is a global technology and specialty materials company that engineers and manufactures a variety of products essential to everyday living.

Connect with Peter Kelly-Detwiler

Peter Kelly-Detwiler has 30 years of experience in the electric energy industry, with much of his career in competitive power markets. He’s currently a leading consultant in the electric industry, providing strategic advice to clients and investors, helping them to navigate the rapid evolution of the electric power grid. Mr. Kelly-Detwiler offers numerous keynotes and workshops on a wide range of topics. He has also written widely on energy issues for and GE, with over 300 articles to his credit. His book on the transformation of electric power markets - “The Energy Switch” - was published by Prometheus Books in June of 2021.

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