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How You Can Stay Cool this Summer with District Energy

Jun 9, 2017

When we read and discuss clean energy, we typically think of electricity generation through solar, wind, and other renewables.

A greater challenge and opportunity lies in heating and cooling, and electricity storage. With the emergence of combined heat and power (CHP), District Energy (DE), and storage, we can begin to address Canada’s thermal needs.

One of the larger users of energy in Canadian communities today is buildings, which account for about 25 percent. And within buildings, most of the energy use is for domestic hot water, and space heating and cooling.

On the residential side, up to 83 percent of energy end use is directed to space heating and domestic hot water. It is a similar situation for commercial and institutional buildings, with nearly 60 percent of energy end-use dedicated for both space and hot water heating. Most of this energy need is met through in-building energy systems with natural gas.

But there are other very reliable thermal energy delivery opportunities that have an important role in meeting our thermal energy needs across Canada, such as district heating and cooling infrastructure. These types of energy distribution systems provide an opportunity to harness a wide range of energy sources from waste heat to renewable natural gas, and can contribute to meeting Canada’s climate change and clean growth economy objectives.

Global leaders in the fight against climate change, such as Copenhagen, feature CHP and DE systems as a cornerstone of their energy policy to integrate renewables, contributing to ambitious targets and actions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The United Nations Environment Program has recognized the role of CHP and district energy to address thermal energy needs in urban environments and were part of COP21 discussions in Paris. [1]

Throughout Canada, in communities and in university and hospital campuses across the country, district energy infrastructure offers a pathway for the development of Smart Energy Communities, which improve energy efficiency, enhance reliability, cut costs, and reduce GHGs. [2]

On the East Coast, the Cogswell Redevelopment Project provides an excellent chance to revamp not just the inefficient roadways in that area of Halifax. This major infrastructure project also offers the exciting prospect of using a DE system to harness the waste heat from municipal wastewater (sewers) to heat new residential and commercial developments. [3]

On the West Coast, many British Columbia communities have invested in DE, including Surrey, Richmond, Gibsons, Revelstoke and North Vancouver. These communities are expanding and moving to include lower carbon energy sources to address thermal energy needs, including Vancouver.

In addition to environmental benefits, DE can also offer widespread economic benefits to communities, such as the opportunity to reduce energy and maintenance costs for consumers and help with economic development. For instance, DE systems can free up space in buildings taken up by big boiler rooms and eliminate the need for rooftop chillers. And they offer extremely reliable service that is resilient to extreme weather events.

QUEST is supporting DE and has launched a national DE Working Group. The goal of the DE Working Group is to advance Canada’s DE industry: positioning DE for a changing energy system and clean energy economy, as well as facilitating project implementation by addressing market and policy barriers.

The Working Group’s primary objective is to promote supportive DE policies and programs. In support of this objective, the Working Group is taking a closer look at identifying and addressing barriers in building codes and standards, as well as developing a collection of useful resources and best practices for municipalities to move DE projects forward. Additionally, the DE Working Group will also be developing policy recommendations to governments in support of DE.

The DE Working Group runs in parallel to, and builds upon the experience of, QUEST’s Combined Heat and Power (CHP) Working Groups, which have been effective in advocating for supportive policies and programs and providing a voice for the diverse number of utilities, municipalities, technology and service providers, and customers that see CHP as a part of Canada’s clean energy economy.

To get involved in any of these Working Groups, please get in touch and express your interest – our objectives and activities are driven by discussions with QUEST subscribers and subject matter experts from our broader network. We welcome your input and invite you to get involved.


[1] United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). District Energy in Cities. www.unep.org/energy/des
[2] Smart Energy Communities do this by integrating conventional energy networks (electricity, natural gas, district energy, and transportation fuel) in communities to better match energy needs with the most efficient energy source; integrate land use and transportation planning; harness local energy opportunities; and focus on the importance of energy efficiency for whole communities.
[3] Additional examples of leading practices for Smart Energy Communities that have incorporated CHP, DE and storage can be found on the Smart Energy Communities Atlas, an online repository of smart energy projects, policies, programs, plans, and resources in Canada. Accessible at: https://questcanada.org/hub/atlas

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