Thursday 18 April 2013

Saskatoon: Becoming a Leader in Cold Climate Energy Efficiency

The City of Saskatoon’s 2012-2022 Strategic Plan focuses on economic prosperity, quality of life, and environmental responsibility. It establishes a vision for the future: “Saskatoon thrives in harmony with its natural environment, conserves resources and consistently demonstrates environmental leadership. Our city’s air and water are clean. We reduced our consumption of water and energy. We rely on renewable energy sources and green technology where it makes sense to do so. We construct energy-efficient buildings. And, we are a leader in operating an energy-efficient city in our cold weather climate.”

Lofty goals, but the folks in Energy and Sustainability Engineering, Environmental Services Branch, are eager to collaborate with all the municipal departments to turn that dream into a reality.

Environmental Services
The City’s Environmental Services Branch is composed of four different sections.

Waste Stream Management operates the landfill and looks after the nitty gritty of collecting and disposing of solid waste.

Land and Water oversees remediation of contaminated soil, stormwater management, and swale planning (both artificial and the North East Swale), as well as water quality monitoring of water and waste water.

Environmental Education and Performance is responsible for communications and policy-making. They work with the Saskatchewan Environmental Society on the Pesticide Management campaign, participate in Seedy Saturday, and develop policies on topics such as dark sky lighting and wetlands.

Energy and Sustainability Engineering is a brand-new section within the branch. They are establishing ways to increase energy efficiency and identifying renewable/clean energy sources. “We work with almost every department,” Ian Loughran, the section’s manager explains. “Our goal is to work with everybody and to help them identify opportunities for energy efficiency and conservation. For example, we initiated and managed the solar heating panels’ installations at Lawson Civic Centre and Harry Bailey Aquatic Center, which is increasing energy efficiency at City facilities.”

Energy & Greenhouse Gas Management Plan

In 2009, the City of Saskatoon, in collaboration with Road Map Saskatoon, published an Energy & Greenhouse Gas Management Plan. The Plan’s goals were to build a healthy, energy-aware community with a diverse and environmentally sustainable energy system.

The City has been slowly implementing the action steps outlined in the Plan. As mentioned above, solar heating for both Harry Bailey and Lawson Civic Centre’s swimming pools was completed in 2010. The City’s new Access Transit Facility and Fire Hall #8 are both complete and have applied for LEED certification, and the new police station and the Remai Art Gallery of Saskatchewan are also intended to be LEED Silver.

The landfill gas project (a partnership between Saskatoon Light and Power and the Environmental Services branch is almost fully constructed (29 gas wells installed), and the flare building and power generation building (1.6 MW) will be completed this spring/summer.

The Environmental Services Branch is now developing a business plan that will establish priorities, identify areas where the City can achieve the greatest effectiveness, and outline ways of funding the projects. Once the business plan is in place, the branch will assist other branches to undertake projects that fall within their mandate.

District Energy
The City is currently exploring ways in which they can achieve greater energy efficiency through district energy and use of the waste heat produced by SaskPower’s Queen Elizabeth Power Station. Ian Loughran, Manager, and Chris Richards, Project Engineer, Energy and Sustainability Engineering, explained the work that has been done to date and the project’s potential.

District energy is an efficient way to heat a cluster of neighbouring buildings. Rather than each building purchasing and maintaining a boiler, they share a central heating facility which then pumps hot water to each of the individual buildings.

A centralized system could mean a significant cost savings for building owners who will no longer need to hire a highly-qualified boiler operator, purchase a boiler, or set aside a whole room for the equipment.

The University of Saskatchewan’s steam heating system is based on a similar principle but is less flexible as you must achieve a much higher temperature to obtain steam than is required for hot water.

“The beauty of district energy is that you can switch energy sources – solar, geothermal, biofuels,” Ian explains. “In the future, if the price of natural gas goes up, you could make a business case for biofuels. But imagine delivering sawdust to 70 buildings rather than just one.”

In addition, you have the potential to produce both heat and electricity. Rather than using natural gas to just provide heat, you can use it to create electricity, using the waste heat that is a by-product of generating electricity to heat buildings. “It’s a more cost-effective manner to produce much cleaner electricity and you’re monetizing more of the natural gas you are burning,” Chris explains. “You have the potential to lower your greenhouse gas emissions by 35% by achieving a much higher overall system efficiency.”

North American District Energy Projects 

The University of Calgary has converted its central heating and cooling plant into a co-generation facility. The new facility takes the natural gas that is normally used to produce heat and uses it to produce electricity. The waste heat is then used to heat the campus buildings.

The University of British Columbia is taking it one step further by integrating renewable energy sources into the natural gas system. The Bioenergy Research and Demonstration facility burns locally sourced wood waste and tree trimmings to provide 25% of its baseload heating needs, reducing UBC’s natural gas consumption by 12%.

Regent Park in Toronto is Canada’s largest and oldest public housing project. Its revitalization includes a district energy scheme that will provide collective heating and cooling for all the residential and commercial buildings in the Park. It is anticipated that the energy generated by the district energy system will keep 400,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas out of the air over 30 years.

Markham District Energy, a municipally-owned utility, produces thermal energy. Starting in 2000 with the IBM Canada building, nearly 13 million square feet of building space has been connected to the City’s district energy system, including two high schools, a major hotel, commercial and residential towers, and City Hall.

Saskatoon’s Potential for District Energy
The 2009 Energy and Greenhouse Gas Management Plan identified the Queen Elizabeth Power Station as a potential source of free heat from the hot water that is dumped into the river. A consultant was hired to conduct a feasibility study. The study was completed in 2011 and identified two areas that would make sense for district energy: Downtown and North Downtown.

The City has now initiated a second phase of the project, focusing its attention on the North Downtown. Based on the density, land use, and road placement estimates that are developed as part of the North Downtown plan, the consultant will provide feedback on the feasibility of a district energy system.

The main cost in establishing a district energy system is trenching and pipes. North Downtown is a long way from the Queen Elizabeth Power Station, but there is the potential for sufficient building density to support a district energy system, particularly if the energy system includes some of the existing buildings adjacent to North Downtown – SIAST, Harry Bailey, the flour mills, and motels.

“North Downtown might start out with natural gas district energy,” Ian explains, “but the beauty of district energy is that you can switch fuel sources as costs for the different options fluctuate.”

The City is also exploring the potential for a district energy system for the City’s new bus barns and City yards as they will be much closer to the Queen Elizabeth Power Station.