The city of Richmond has a goal to reduce carbon emissions by 30% by 2020, while also following regional recommendations to densify city centres. How to simultaneously deliver energy to a growing population while reducing emissions? The answer is underground, in Metro Vancouver’s sewer system.
“They are currently replacing the Gilbert sewer pipe that goes all the way down to Lulu Island treatment plant,” explains Peter Russell, the City of Richmond’s Senior Manager, Sustainability and District Energy. “So because they were doing that and we were looking to establish a district energy in that area utility we collaborated.”
The result is the Lulu Island Energy Company, a new City of Richmond small or ‘district’-scaled energy company that’s in its early days of serving the Oval Village neighbourhood.
District Energy Delivers Local Benefits
“62% of energy in the communities is used in buildings and that represents 43% of our carbon footprint in the community so not surprisingly district energy comes out as a strong strategy for reducing energy,” notes Russell. “District energy is a great way to localize energy supply to bring those dollars into the community rather than go to the bigger utility companies.”
Sewage flowing through Metro Vancouver pipes contains heat energy. To capture that energy, a secondary piping system is installed alongside or around it. Alen Postolka, Richmond’s District Energy Manager, explains how it works.
“Through the heat exchanger, you transfer the heat from the sewer to the potable water. After the heat is elevated to (the) necessary temperature the water is distributed through the distribution piping to the building and delivered to the customers.”
Facility Will Supply Heat to Thousands of Homes
“In 5 to 10 years we anticipate in the range of at least ten buildings with the average unit count of 3-5 hundred units – so between 3,000-5,000 units will be connected in that area alone,” says Russell.
For now, the system is hooked to a natural gas supply.
“Sewer heat recovery technology is quite expensive so in order to build a solid business case long term you have to build your customer base,” explains Postolka.
Second Facility for Richmond
Richmond is becoming a regional leader in the field, as this is its second district utility. It also operates the Alexandra district energy utility using geothermal heat recovery. Russell thinks it will be a point of pride for the people who live there.
“Residents will certainly have bragging rights for being connected to renewable energy,” he says with a smile.
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