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It’s a Good Thing: District energy gains new converts in our warming world

By District Energy posted 03-24-2022 10:33


BC Business


A centuries-old solution for a greener urban grid, this power source has a B.C. champion in Creative Energy, an offshoot of real estate developer Westbank. 

Cities represent something of a climate paradox. On the one hand, they’re the answer to global warming: more efficient land use (think up, not out) means fewer people commuting, and more land for the farms and forests that sustain us.

On the other hand, cities are energy hogs. Urban centres consume about 75 percent of the world’s primary energy (energy harvested directly from natural resources) and emit between 50 and 60 percent of its greenhouse gases, according to the United Nations. Building operations alone represent 28 percent of global emissions.

Vancouver developer Westbank and its founder, Ian Gillespie, saw the potential of a greener form of district energy about a decade ago—not just for its downtown developments (Telus Garden, among them), but for the rest of Vancouver and for cities everywhere. In 2014, Gillespie paid $32 million to buy Vancouver’s Central Heat Distribution—one of the largest district energy systems in North America—and renamed it Creative Energy, committing to convert its natural gas boilers to a lower-carbon fuel.

The man who’s helping him make that happen is Krishnan Iyer, CEO of Creative Energy since 2018. “The typical Creative Energy client is a residential building or office or hospital,” says Iyer, noting that the company serves about 220 customers across more than 45 million square feet of connected real estate in downtown Vancouver. The common denominator is not just dense real estate but intense energy usage: “Health care is a very high-energy endeavour,” Iyer says, pointing to St. Paul’s Hospital as an example. “It has to be worthwhile to put the pipes in the ground to serve those buildings.”

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