Actual Media

District Energy Comes of Age

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Courtesy of Actual Media

Three milestones in 2006 signal new energy for an old idea.

When Thomas Edison wrote, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent persperation,” he could have been describing how hard-working district energy executives feel about their accomplishments in 2006. How else to account for the sense of momentum in a previously-obscure sector of the energy industry that marked its commercial debut more than 125 years ago?

Three key markers are responsible for this renaissance. The first was a commitment by Infrastructure Canada to fund a major research project aimed at determining how local decision makers can best use district energy to further their goals for energy-efficient community development. The second was recognition from the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) that district energy can help Canada reach its goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. The third event – and possibly the biggest breakthrough of all – was the decision by the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) to award three long-term power contracts to district energy projects.

The ball started rolling with an announcement at the Canadian District Energy Association’s (CDEA) annual conference in Vancouver last June that CDEA was partnering with the Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF) and the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) to benchmark the achievements of district energy projects and develop a better understanding of how leaders in the municipal and institutional sectors can partner to meet their energy goals using district energy. Urban Energy Solutions is a multi-faceted initiative funded by Infrastructure Canada’s Knowledge-development, Outreach and Awareness (KOA) program with additional financial support from TAF.

The Urban Energy Solutions project is well under way. The response from system owners, operators and suppliers from across Canada and around the world has been very positive. And the timing couldn’t be better. The results of the research will be made public in Spring 2007 just as the profile of Canada’s district energy sector is gathering national prominence.

This past summer, the NRTEE included district energy in its advice to the federal government on a long-term strategy on energy and climate change. Supporters of district energy were delighted to see district energy acknowledged as a significant part of the solution. Simply put, the report argues that Canadians must use energy more efficiently and produce new energy while emitting less carbon. District energy offers a cost-effective way to meet both objectives. The NRTEE also cited the benefits of developing compact urban form to create higher quality environments while reducing the need for car travel. As is being discovered in greenfield communities across the country, focusing mixed-use development around the piped infrastructure of a district energy system is an excellent way to curb sprawl and save energy at the same time. District energy champions have always highlighted the link between the energyefficiency benefits of these systems and their contribution to promoting compact urban form. The NRTEE’s recognition of district energy shows that these same characteristics can also aid in the fight against climate change.

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