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Edmonton Sets Its Sights on District Energy Centre

Edmonton Sets Its Sights on District Energy Centre

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Edmonton is one of the last large municipalities in Canada to enjoy the benefits of a District Energy system but that may soon change thanks to the efforts of City of Edmonton and ENMAX.

District Energy roots go as far back as the ancient Roman baths and the concept is surprisingly simple and effective for modern times.

It’s the production of thermal energy, in the form of hot water, cold water, or steam from a central location which is used to heat a district or a community through a network of underground pipes. Much like using public transportation or carpooling, efficiencies can be gained by heating water for many buildings from one central place rather than buildings being heated individually.

In Canada, District Energy Systems heat millions of square feet of commercial, residential, and institutional space.

ENMAX currently operates a 55 megawatts District Energy System in Calgary and is looking to leverage its success and add the City of Edmonton to this list. As one of Canada’s last major metropolitan centres to implement a district energy system, its construction within the downtown cores underground pedestrian walkway network will enable civic and privately-owned buildings to utilize a system that can potentially provide long-term economic and environmental benefits.

“Putting in a new district energy system and retrofitting it in a downtown core is a highly-challenging prospect, due largely to access to land for the Energy Centre and installation of the thermal pipeline network,” says Jan de Wolde, Director of District and Community Energy with ENMAX.

“It’s so important that we partnered with the Winspear Centre of Music and the City of Edmonton in selecting a central location in the heart of downtown. And, given that many buildings boiler systems are reaching end-of-life we feel now is the time to initiate a district energy system in Edmonton.”

The District Energy Centre will be located at the Winspear Centre, which is looking to expand. Currently, there is street level parking there and the plan is to put a District Energy Centre on the site, building it in conjunction with Winspear’s expansion and also providing it with heat.

The idea for the Edmonton project began about five years ago after initially being looked at in the 1990s, according to de Wolde. The downtown core has increased in density, buildings have aged to the point now where there’s a core of potential customers and buildings to connect and sustain a district energy system.

ENMAX has engaged with the City of Edmonton and City Council to continue to push this initiative forward. It is partnering with EPCOR, which will be installing the pipeline, and the City of Edmonton, which will be providing the location and connecting a number of municipal buildings.

ENMAX is working to have approvals in place within the next six to eight months. Prior to that, it will be delivering to City Council its engineering feasibility study in August giving them an overview of costs, engineering design, physical design and potential buildings to connect.

Construction is expected to begin at the earliest in 2018 with completion in 2020, says de Wolde. Initially it will provide 20 megawatts of thermal energy capable of heating about five million square feet of space or the equivalent of about 10 buildings and have the potential to increase the capacity to 60 megawatts.

ENMAX is going beyond the scope of its conventional business and driving out value to the community with more responsible energy generation and distribution.

“Edmonton is a very unique City given its population density and climate. Buildings need lots of heat for many months of the year and yet it’s actually one of the last large municipal cities within Canada to have a district energy system. A District Energy System directly aligns with a number of the City’s municipal objectives, specifically GHG reductions and green initiatives. Its valuable municipal infrastructure that can actually help smooth out municipal investment for the next 50 years when it comes to heating their buildings,” says de Wolde.

A District Energy Centre in Edmonton not only aligns with municipal objectives, it also directly aligns with provincial and federal greenhouse reduction plans and provides an opportunity for those levels of government to show leadership in this area by connecting their buildings to the system.

It is also a major infrastructure project providing jobs for almost two years.

Here are some of the benefits of a District Energy Centre, according to ENMAX:

  • Reduced operational risk associated with owning boiler assets and the avoided capital spend to install or replace them. This in turn leads to increased efficiency, productivity, and revenue through reduced operating expenditures;
  • There is no longer a need to purchase/replace, operate, and maintain boiler plants for domestic hot water and space heating within the building. Boilers can cost up to $1 million for certain buildings. The space which would have been allocated to this mechanical infrastructure can be recovered and repurposed to potentially generate new revenue;
  • Building operators can focus on providing increased customer service to tenants as opposed to maintaining a boiler plant;
  • The carbon footprint of the building can be reduced by connecting to an environmentally-responsible energy source which can contribute to attaining designations such as LEED;
  • By connecting to District Energy, building administration will have a predictable thermal energy rate for the term of their contact allowing for more accurate long-term budget forecasting;
  • There is no capital expense required by the building owner to connect to the District Energy system. ENMAX assumes all the capital risk to connect each building and owns and maintain all equipment installed at the customer site for the term of the thermal energy agreement. There is no maintenance of this equipment required by the building operator.

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