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Welcome Nick Meeten, New Expert in the Utility Management Community- [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Expert Interview]

Posted to Energy Central in the Utility Management Group
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Energy Analyst Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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  • Jun 7, 2022
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For too long, the energy industry has been mired by a tendency to operate in siloes. Whether that was internally within a power company where departments weren’t fully collaborating, across a region where power companies weren’t sharing as much as they could or should have, or even in the industry more widely when energy production is too separated from related fields, these artificial walls built up only serve to slow down potential progress and learning.

At Energy Central, we’re always striving to break down these walls, to connect those siloes, and to create true collaboration among our community members. Recently, we had the opportunity to add to our Network of Experts someone whose role and daily job is a bit outside the box when it comes to Energy Central members, but one operating in a silo from which the rest of the sector would surely benefit. We’re welcoming to the Utility Management Group Nick Meeten, Director at Applied Energy.

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Specifically, Nick works in thermal energy usage within buildings and industries, including thermal energy recycling from wastewater. So while he’s not a professional working at one of the major utilities, the insights he has and the innovation he brings create newfound opportunities from which those in utilities can really benefit. And to start that process, Nick was gracious to participate in our Energy Central Power Perspective ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series.’’

Keep reading to learn more!

Matt Chester: Nick, it’s great to have you added to our Network of Experts. To help introduce yourself to the community, can you give a quick background as to what you do in energy and what led you to that path?

Nick Meeten: My expertise is a slightly unusual niche of using the thermal energy capacity of wastewater for efficiently heating and cooling large buildings or district heating/cooling systems via heat pumps. My path to here has included some twists & turns (not always planned but just how life unfolded for me). My base expertise is consulting mechanical engineering for building services. This is the design of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems for large buildings such as office buildings, aquatic centres, hotels, schools, retail malls etc etc. Understanding how these buildings will use thermal energy in their heating/cooling systems and providing the equipment and infrastructure needed to satisfy these thermal needs. Then around 14 years ago, I also started working with wastewater doing things such as wastewater treatment for water recycling and using wastewater as a thermal source, and bringing these different worlds together in the interests of sustainability. I have bounced around the world over the years, living and working in New Zealand as well as the UK, Italy and Germany.

 

MC: One of your most fascinating specialties has to be the cities of the future. If you were designing a city from the ground up, how would the utility that powers that city look different from existing utilities today?

NM: I would design a city using the following principles. First, break the city up into bite sized ‘villages’. Next, design the infrastructure of each village to be largely self-contained where possible. Bury wastewater treatment plants into the ground and cover them with playing fields or other open space (there’s a great example of this in Asia). Recycle the wastewater heat back into community facilities of the village. Plant parks, sidewalks and roofs with productive plants (e.g. fruit, vegetables, herbs) and feed these plants with nutrients from the appropriately treated wastewater. The produce can be freely consumed by the community.

Have mixed-use urban uses so working/living/schooling/commercial are all mixed together in a beautiful social soup. This would reduce the need for car transport, encourage people to move about on foot/bike/scooters etc, keeping them active and mixing with each other. It also frees up land which, in today’s cities, would be used for roads and carparks.

Ensure the elderly are integrated into the community, getting the benefit of their knowledge and wisdom. In today’s world they are too often given no value and no purpose.

MC: Given that you’re coming from an outside perspective from the power sector, are there any lessons from your fields that you think utility leaders should learn most from?

NM: We need to view the infrastructure systems of cities in a much more holistic way. Everything is interconnected yet we largely operate in separate silos such as: electricity, water, wastewater, buildings, transport. In my space, I’ve been described (jokingly) as being ‘bi-sectoral’. I have one foot in wastewater and the other foot in buildings. Or one foot in below ground infrastructure and the other foot in above ground infrastructure. Or one foot in public sector and the other foot in private sector. All these silos are facing similar issues of aging infrastructure, shortages of skilled people, a need to rapidly transform to a low carbon future, etc.

Yet because all these infrastructure systems are interconnected, if we talk to each other and understand each other’s issues, we can actually really help each other. A perfect example is the thermal energy flows in the buildings of a city. The wastewater flows in a city follow a stable and predictable pattern, based around the daily routines of the people living in the city. These flow patterns match beautifully with the times of day that commercial buildings need their peak heating for the morning warm-up.

So, the commercial buildings thermal needs and the wastewater network flow pulsate in the same rhythm. With a move to decarbonize cities, traditional fossil fuel boilers will be replaced with heatpumps to electrify the heating, thus these pulsations of demand will increasingly cross over to the electricity networks too. But we can help each other by using wastewater as a thermal source for the heatpumps, which increases the COP thus reducing the electrical demand to provide the same heating output. We can also integrate thermal storage to allow electrical load management via the heatpumps or time shifting of this electrical demand. We just need to connect with each other.

 

MC: What advice would you give to someone at the early stage of their career who wants to do the type of work that you’re doing?

NM: Don’t allow yourself to become siloed. Many people become more specialized as their career develops, but this also tends to pigeon hole them. To span sectors means you need to move between them, back and forth. It also helps if you travel and get experience overseas (preferably in at least one non-english speaking country).

 

MC: Why did you feel compelled to get more involved in the Energy Central Community? And what value do you hope to bring to your peers on the platform?

NM: After learning about Energy Central, I saw what a big reach the Energy Central platform has within the USA, but also that it is very focused on electrical utilities and our work could be very complimentary and (hopefully) interesting because it is related but very different. I think I can bring some different experience and expertise to the community, both from the point of view of a different energy source (thermal energy in wastewater) and also from the point of view of having lived and worked in different parts of the world. I would note however that our wastewaterheat.online network has people on the ground in the USA (one of whom is a former colleague and through our working together at that time, we have also become good friends). So we’re very keen to get involved in work opportunities within the USA.

 

MC: How about the reverse? What are you looking to learn from the fellow community members at Energy Central?

NM: You know when I wrote my personal profile for your platform the very first words I wrote are: I'm not an electricity expert. That's not my thing. Stuff that we do in buildings mostly runs off electricity, so you have to know how it works but what I'm really interested to learn from your community is what issues are they facing?

With the work I’m doing, I’m well connected to the European market, but I don’t have as many U.S. contacts and so I’m not as informed with what’s happening in the U.S. So, I would be really interested to hear from people in the community who are kind of energy planners. I would love it if I can get some learning from those sorts of connections.

 

MC: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know that you didn’t get a chance to touch upon above?

NM: Yes, we would really like to connect with cities who are wanting to reduce their carbon emissions and would be interested to hear about our work. However we are also very sensitive to the information overload that is  increasingly becoming a burden to cope with. So we don’t want to add to this burden, but we do want to connect and actually talk. So we are planning to try a few things to achieve this.

First, in a few weeks we’re planning to run a short webinar to give an introduction to the heat recycling from wastewater topic. It is aimed at energy policy planners or councillors rather than engineers and will be not more than an hour long. We will deliberately not get too much into the technical side of things but cover the high level things, the planning tools we have and show lots of real examples of projects from around the world. There will be a special offer we make at this webinar too, but you won’t hear or see it anywhere else. Please contact me through Energy Central or LinkedIn if you would like to attend this webinar.

Following the webinar, over the following few weeks we’re keen to try running a series of small, quick zoom meetings with a maximum of 10 attendees (plus me) again for not longer that an hour each, but where everyone can actually feel involved, ask questions to me and to each other, and do some peer networking. At least we can do some silo busting geographically!

On a personal note, I am a life-long basketball nut, as a player (since I was about 6 years old and still going at 56 years old!), as a coach and a NBA fan and I’d love the chance to see some NBA games live.

________________________________________

Thanks to Nick Meeten for joining me for this interview and for providing a wealth of insights an expertise to the Energy Central Community. You can trust that Nick will be available for you to reach out and connect, ask questions, and more as an Energy Central member, so be sure to make him feel welcome when you see her across the platform.

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interested in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

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