Energy used by buildings generates 55 percent of Vancouver’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Neighborhood Energy Systems act as shared infrastructure platforms providing heat to multiple buildings. These systems provide an opportunity to implement low carbon energy solutions that are often not available or affordable to implement at the individual building scale. The City of Vancouver developed the South East False Creek (SEFC) Neighborhood Energy Utility (NEU) as a way to reduce GHG emissions by 60 percent compared to traditional heating sources and supply affordable, reliable, and low carbon thermal energy to citizens.
The SEFC NEU was established by the city of Vancouver in 2010 to provide thermal energy to the Olympic Village and today serves 22 buildings, encompassing over 3.4 million square feet of mixed use development. This innovative energy system uses waste heat from sewage to provide space heating and hot water to connected buildings in the neighborhood. Thermal energy is captured as the False Creek Energy Center using a heat exchange process that is integrated with a city sewage pump station. Energy is then distributed to SEFC buildings through a hot water distribution piping network. Sewage heat recovery supplies 70 percent of the utility’s energy production. The remaining 30 percent are supplied by high-efficiency natural gas boilers for peaking and backup.
During 2013, the SEFC NEU reduced CO2 emissions associated with heating building by 70 percent, or 2,500 tons, compared with traditional heating approaches. Incremental gains in GHG emissions reductions have also been realized through voluntary connection of buildings outside the SEFC area.
The city of Vancouver aims to become the Greenest City in the World by 2020. The Greenest City 2020 Action Plan provides a roadmap for staying on the leading edge of city sustainability. The SEFC NEU fits into the Climate Leadership goal, which seeks to reduce community-based GHG emissions by 33 percent below 2007 levels, or 1.1 million tons CO2 per year by 2020. The SEFC NEU plays a critical role in achieving this target by contributing to a forecasted 9,000 tons per year reduction in CO2 emissions by 2020.
Beyond from environmental benefits, the SEFC NEU will provide economic benefits in the form of return on investments to taxpayers, competitive energy rates to customer, and an increased number of green jobs. It also helps the neighborhood to achieve energy security and economic resiliency.
From a social aspect, the SEFC NEU provides customers with a higher level of comfort compared to conventional space heating options. The NEU also eliminates heat production equipment from individual buildings, creating more space for green roofs and reducing maintenance for building owners.