Energy used for the heating of buildings generates more than 50% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the city. Vancouver, through its Greenest City Action Plan and Renewable City Strategy, aims to reduce GHG emissions by 33% by 2020 and at least 80% by 2050 (versus 2007). Vancouver faced three main challenges in establishing its NES project: the need for low-carbon NES to be price competitive with natural gas; the potential public opposition to low-carbon technologies such as fuelled by biomass; and the lack of utility providers able or willing to initiate new NES projects.
Vancouver has been leveraging private sector expertise and financing to establish new NES franchises, regulations on customer connections, a renewable energy approval framework and cost competitiveness measures. The strategy includes a mapping analysis to identify target NES areas.
The Southeast False Creek Neighbourhood Energy Utility, which came online in 2010, eliminates over 60% of the emissions associated with the heating of buildings. This facility, which will be extended to serve new developments, currently achieves an estimated annual CO2 reduction of 3,100 tonnes. The Southeast Facility serves 395,000 m2 of residential, commercial and institutional floor area, and will grow to 700,000 m2 by 2022 (approximately 16,000 residents).
NES facilitates local resource recovery, reducing the city’s reliance upon, and impact of, non-renewable energy sources. NES results in less unregulated combustion of fossil fuels for heating, improving local air quality and reduced risk of respiratory illness. NES also reduces groundwater and air contamination associated with fossil fuel production. The project has built local capacity in consulting and construction sectors, which now provide expertise and services to related initiatives in neighbouring municipalities.
NES projects are designed in such a way that they may eventually achieve zero emissions. By transitioning to renewable energy for heating, customers are protected from the effects of increasing fossil fuel prices. NES also eliminates boiler equipment in buildings, which is typically located below ground, making it vulnerable to flooding. Customers connected to a low-carbon NES will benefit from much more stable and predictable energy costs as a result of using local renewable energy sources and reduced dependence on fossil fuels. The strategy aims to increase green economic development, including creating employment for construction and operation of facilities, plus supporting local thermal energy technology development.
The Vancouver Neighbourhood Energy Strategy seeks to eliminate 120,000 tonnes of CO2 pollution per year by 2020. These reductions will be achieved through the elimination of the use of fossil fuels for the heating of buildings. Low-carbon conversion of existing steam heat systems is predicted to eliminate 95,000 tonnes of CO2 per year by 2020. By establishing new NES networks, the project aims to eliminate a further 25,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, with greater reductions as these networks continue to expand.