As many members of our industry already know, district energy systems are a renewable, low-carbon way to heat buildings – and even entire cities. Cold countries like Norway and Finland in particular have seen success using these systems. But despite Canada’s abundance of forests and renewable resources, we still rely heavily on natural gas to heat our buildings.
The good news is, some municipalities are starting to recognize the importance of transitioning to a renewable, sustainable way of heating and the role district energy can play. Prince George, B.C., has been leading the way in this field. The city began operating a district energy system, the Downtown Renewable Energy System, in 2012, using wood waste from nearby Lakeland Mills. It provides hot water heating to 11 municipal and provincial buildings – and it’s expanding.
For those critics who think that district energy systems won’t be able to handle Canada’s extremely cold temperatures, think again. In January 2020, the system successfully operated during a record-breaking cold-snap, at -42 C, William Wedel, utilities manager for the City of Prince George, told me. And he believes that we are starting to see a change when it comes to Canada’s approach to waste management and district energy systems that use renewable fuel sources.
Other cities in B.C., including Williams Lake and Quesnel, are starting to see the potential of district energy. These systems are optimal for locations that have mills or forestry resources nearby, and with so many sawmills shutting down in the past year, they present an opportunity to offset job losses and boost local economies.