Since the late 1800s, downtown Grand Rapids has been equipped with a network of pipes that heat buildings with steam generated from a series of boilers across from Van Andel Arena.
Known as district energy, the concept is seeing a revitalization as a clean energy tool, particularly when the boilers that generate the steam are powered by renewable energy.
In Grand Rapids, officials with Vicinity Energy Inc. — which recently acquired the facility from Veolia North America — tout the efficiency rate of producing steam from the natural gas-powered boilers and potential capital cost savings for building owners in lieu of their own heating equipment.
Vicinity General Manager J.J. Loew, who took over the position last month, also sees room for growth by adding more customers to the system amid new downtown development. The operation serves roughly 130 downtown customers, and is one of Vicinity’s 18 networks in 11 cities.
“The continued expansion of downtown and where this infrastructure is relative to all of the developments going on makes it an opportunity for Grand Rapids to continue to leverage this energy efficient solution,” said Loew, who was previously a branch manager in Grand Rapids for KONE, a global elevator and escalator supplier. “We’ve got capacity to add a large number of buildings even with the system that’s in place now.”