Chair's Update 4th Quarter 2015

By Bruce Ander posted 06-25-2017 19:15


"Embracing Change": That is IDEA's continuing focus and theme for this year. As we consider change, I can think of no other region in North America (or perhaps the world) that has driven change in our sector in the last five years more deliberately than the Canadian province of British Columbia - and in particular, the city of Vancouver. For this reason I am especially looking forward to attending IDEA's evolvingENERGY conference in this beautiful city Dec. 7-10, 2015.

The Economist magazine ranked Vancouver the No. 1 most liveable city in the world in 2010. Besides being the most liveable, the city is also striving to be the greenest. It is working to deliver its 2020 Greenest City Action Plan, and this is where new district energy initiatives start to emerge.

I have been involved in distributed generation and district energy my entire career. For much of that time, the district energy landscape in Canada was, frankly, stagnant. A handful of systems, developed decades ago, served a relatively small number of urban centers and campuses. Attempts to advance meaningful policy that would support the development of new thermal grids, combined heat and power, and the necessary integration of these systems were largely unsuccessful. Efficiency, climate change and resiliency were simply not political drivers. At the turn of the millennium, a few new systems started to develop. Then more recently came change in British Columbia - big change.

But before that change, there was a quiet success story going back nearly 50 years. In November 1968, a group of Vancouver engineers had a desire to lower heating bills and reduce pollution. They understood the benefits of district heating and created Central Heat Distribution, a privately owned utility that over time expanded a steam system to eventually serve more than 210 buildings in the downtown core, including the Vancouver Public Library, BC Place and Pacific Centre. Central Heat's most well-known "load" was the world-famous steam clock in the heritage district known as Gastown. If you think this was a natural gas sponsorship opportunity, you would be wrong. Gastown was Vancouver's first downtown area, named after John "Gassy Jack" Deighton, a chubby Yorkshire seaman, steamboat captain and barkeep who arrived in 1867 to open the area's first saloon. Delegates should spend some time in this historic area of Vancouver, which is not too far from the conference hotel.

Central Heat's sale in 2014 is part of the changing story in Vancouver. But why is the company's own story important? John Barnes, a second-generation owner, expertly continued managing this quiet thermal utility, providing important Vancouver buildings with heating service reliability exceeding 99.9 percent over 46 years. This foundation of reliability and trust will underpin future opportunities for thermal grids in the region. The company's successful history also provides the platform for the new owner, Creative Energy, to modernize this longstanding IDEA member system while at the same time expanding into new communities.

In the past five years, district energy projects have emerged in cities such as Surrey, Richmond and Kelowna. Campuses including Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia are actively expanding and modernizing. Creative Energy is launching a new system in the Vancouver district known as Northeast False Creek. Many more projects could be listed.

Here is a simple observation: The district energy momentum we are seeing today is partly rooted in the province's decision in 2008 to introduce a carbon tax. When you combine a clear price signal for carbon with vision and leadership, projects evolve - and, in the case of British Columbia, fast.

The recent explosion of district energy activity in British Columbia cannot be properly summarized in this column. You will need to spend a few days at the conference to hear all the stories. I am personally looking forward to learning more and sharing a pint with my district energy colleagues in Gassy Jack's old neighborhood.


Markham District Energy Inc.

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