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Imagine a furnace that heats the whole neighbourhood, not just your home

By District Energy posted 02-15-2024 09:18




What if you never had to buy, fix or maintain a furnace or air conditioner to keep your home comfortable? What if your heating and cooling worked during power outages, and you could count on it becoming more efficient and climate-friendly over time?

That's the promise of district heating and cooling or district energy, where entire communities share a heating and cooling system. That allows them to tap into many low-carbon energy sources they couldn't before, more efficiently than any individual building could.

"We have to move from thinking just about the building and start thinking about the society — society's efficiency and society's renewable efficiency use," said Michael Wiggin, director at the Boltzmann Institute, a Canadian group focused on research and education on district energy systems. 

As governments look to tackle carbon emissions from buildings — the third largest source in Canada behind the oil and gas industry and transportation — it's an idea that more of them are considering and implementing. 

Peter Ronson is chief operating officer for Markham District Energy (MDE), a network in a Toronto suburb that heats and cools 14 million square feet in more than 200 buildings, including condo buildings up to 44 storeys tall, a hospital, data centres, hotels and two schools. Some, like the data centres, produce a lot of heat, while others may use lots of hot water.

"We got all sorts of stuff on the system," Ronson said. "When [some are] throwing away energy, I can recover and give it to somebody else." That kind of heat-sharing is efficient.

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