Year Inducted: 2022
The son of an engineering professor, Steve Swinson has risen to make his own mark providing critical reliable mechanical systems for institutions that improve quality of life.
As president and CEO of Thermal Energy Corporation for the past 16 years, Swinson oversaw an operation that supplies chilled water and steam service to the world’s largest medical complex, Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas. His vision is for TECO to ensure complete service reliability and resiliency, so no patient’s life is compromised, and invaluable research is not lost
from service interruption.
Today Swinson is taking his experience beyond the Texas Medical Center as the CEO of CenTrio, North America’s leading pure-play district energy platform. Swinson is driving the company’s commitment to operational excellence and its continued transformation to a sustainable energy-centered district energy platform that empowers customers to pursue environmental responsibility.
Swinson learned under his father at Auburn University, graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1981. He would later earn an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management. Auburn University also provided Swinson his first job and gave him the engineering experience he needed in a growing industry – district energy. Charged with increasing amounts of responsibility, he handled the installation of new chilled-water and steam systems at Auburn, putting the university on the cutting edge when it came to campus air conditioning.
After 10 years at Auburn, Swinson was tapped to serve as president of Trigen Energy Corporation’s Western Region. Trigen was then the largest developer, owner and operator of district energy systems in North America and a leading proponent of combined heat and power technology, or CHP.
In 2005, Swinson was selected president and CEO of Thermal Energy Corporation to lead the not-for-profit company through a $369 million expansion, its largest ever. His goal for the project was 100% service reliability that was energy-efficient, environmentally responsible, able to meet the needs of the rapidly expanding medical center campus, and workable within a finite site
footprint. Constructed between 2006 and 2011, the project included a 48 MW CHP unit; an 8.8-million-gallon thermal energy storage tank that is the country’s tallest; and an expanded distribution system.
The project’s completion made TECO the largest district cooling system in North America and garnered the company nine major project-related awards from the Turbine Inlet Cooling Association, Combined Heat and Power Partnership, American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Steel Tank Institute, the International District Energy Association’s System of the Year, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Swinson’s focus on TECO’s resiliency and reliability proved crucial during two natural disasters. When Hurricane Harvey caused major flooding in Houston in 2017, TECO’s service to the hospitals was never interrupted. The company used its own combined heat and power system to run equipment without pulling power from the stressed electricity grid. In 2021, when Winter
Storm Uri crippled the Texas electrical grid, TECO’s service continued, even feeding enough electricity into the grid to about equal what kept the State’s electric grid from failing.
A registered Professional Engineer in Alabama, Swinson is an ASHRAE member and the International District Energy Association, where he has served terms as president and chairman. He was IDEA’s person of the year in 2015.
A supporter of his alma mater, he and his brother and sister established the Dr. and Mrs. Frank Swinson Family Endowed Scholarship in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, while also supporting the college’s unrestricted fund and the Department of Mechanical Engineering.