In Conversation: C40’s Shannon Lawrence speaks to representatives from Vancouver, newly appointed lead city for the C40 District Energy Network

As lead city of the C40 District Energy Network, Vancouver will play a critical role as a thought leader and communicator, helping to accelerate the uptake of district energy in cities around the world. Vancouver’s district energy leadership has been recognized globally; the city’s Neighbourhood Energy Utility was one of the finalists in the Green Energy category at the C40 & Siemens 2014 Climate Leadership Awards.

Shannon Lawrence, Head of C40’s Energy Initiative, spoke with Vancouver city officials Brian Crowe and Chris Baber to find out more about the city’s motivation and vision for leading the network.

Shannon Lawrence: Why did your city join the C40 District Energy Network, first as a member and now as a leadership city? 

Vancouver: We joined the network for the same reason we participate in C40: it provides a unique opportunity to learn from other cities, build relationships, and have on-going conversations with people whose ambitions, skillsets and scopes of influence match ours. We’ve benefitted greatly from the experience of cities that are ahead of us and now have a lot to share based on what we’ve learned. Their success with district energy reinforces it as an appropriate response to our carbon challenge and gives us more credibility locally. It’s a win-win for all involved.

Lawrence: What do you hope the network can achieve?

Vancouver: The network can help catalyse the successful delivery of low-carbon district energy opportunities. One city making great strides on its own won’t be enough. We all need to work together. We’re planning a C40 network workshop, where cities will have the chance to dig into the policy and technical details and collaborate to find solutions that are appropriate in their individual context.

Lawrence: What inspired Vancouver to host the upcoming C40 workshop?

Vancouver: Vancouver is a small city in terms of population, but we feel we are taking progressive action that can help other cities around the world. We are eager to show what we’ve achieved through the implementation of our Neighbourhood Energy Strategy. We also want to meet face-to-face with C40 network members to have much more dynamic discussions about district energy challenges and solutions.

Lawrence: Your city demonstrates strong leadership in implementing district energy solutions. What key experiences would you like to share with other cities?

Vancouver: We’ve been at this for about 10 years and have learned a lot about developing business models, engaging with the business and utility community, procuring services, understanding the role of technology and where it fits into the decision-making process, addressing connection requirements and related policy issues, and what not to be too distracted by when trying to develop a district energy programme. One of things that we’ve learned in our district energy strategy development is the importance of utilising legacy systems, even if at first it seems daunting because the city doesn’t own or govern these systems.

Hopefully some of our learning can help other cities get over common hurdles. I’m certain our own programme could have moved farther faster by networking with other cities as we do now through C40.

Lawrence: At present, what are the main ambitions and targets for your district energy work?

Vancouver: Our Greenest City 2020 Action Plan identified specific targets for our district energy strategy; namely 120,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions reductions per year by 2020. We are on course to achieve that target through the low-carbon conversion of some of our legacy systems and the development of new district energy systems.

Lawrence: Which other cities have inspired you in your thinking about district energy?

Vancouver: Quite a number of cities have inspired us. Copenhagen and Stockholm showed that you can start with a small system and over time it can develop into something transformative that provides substantial environmental benefits. If it wasn’t for Oslo’s generosity in sharing a great deal about their sewage heat recovery technology, we wouldn’t have had the confidence to proceed here with a similar approach. Then there are others, like London, which are at a stage similar to ours but are taking an active leadership role in trying to define district energy opportunities and facilitate their implementation. Their heat mapping exercise was a real eye-opener for us and led us to do our own version. We also have more local examples, like St. Paul, Seattle, Toronto and Markham, which really brought it all home for us in terms of similar business environments, regulatory regimes, energy pricing environments and models we can adapt with a high probability of success.

The large-scale Scandinavian approach is such an impressive example of this integrated resource recovery mind-set – looking at how all the energy and waste streams interact and create opportunities for energy recovery. This is model we can aspire to replicate. Each city has its own context and drivers, but there is always something to take away and learn from another city’s experience.

To read the case study of Vancouver’s Neighbourhood Energy Strategy, click here. 

Brian Crowe is the Director of Water, Sewers and District Energy and Chris Baber is the Manager of Neighbourhood Energy for the City of Vancouver.