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District energy presents alternative to grid system

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Rising environmental concerns and soaring gas prices mean changes in energy management are becoming increasingly necessary.

The Canadian District Energy Association, the Canadian Urban Institute, and the Toronto Atmospheric Fund have partnered to create a national research initiative that will study the implementation of district energy systems in municipalities across the country. Along with the University of Calgary's Institute for Energy, Environment and Economy, the trio held a workshop at the Olympic Volunteer Centre Wed., May 23.

"The Urban Energy Solutions project is a pan-Canadian research project looking at the opportunity of the application of district energy systems in communities to help them address their energy and conservation needs as well as infrastructure adaptation and resiliency," CUI education and research manager and UES project manager Brent Gilmore.

Gilmore explained district energy is more than just a technology; it has become a way of thinking about how to plan for community energy reduction.

"District energy, in its most simplistic terms, is the production of thermal and electrical [energy] distributed throughout a network to a number of buildings or customers," he said.

Gilmore said that district energy is just starting to gather interest in Calgary.

"What it offers is a way to focus on improving your overall energy efficiency for the community," he explained. "As well as a strategy to help retain and encourage new types of organizations and business development by providing them with a secure supply of energy that's affordably priced and, at the same time, has social and economic benefits, as well as [those] of the environmental nature."

He added the system would also help to offset certain types of air emissions by producing fewer than the provincial grid system, and offers solutions for how communities can improve their infrastructure.

"You're using one type of fuel to produce more than one type of power source," he said. "You are catching two things at once, which helps you really optimize fuel at the same time [as] providing a greater range of services."

According to Gilmore, there are a number of challenges to the implementation and operation of district energy system.

"It's just an alternate way of producing power, and potentially one that may be more viable at the local level," said Gilmore. "Each community is different and should look at what works best for them."

City of Calgary project leader for sustainable communities Dick Ebersohn said district heating is being analyzed and is close to implementation for use in the East Village.

"I think [district energy] is a viable solution for Calgary, from several perspectives; for meeting our goal for greenhouse gas emissions, in trying to become more resilient as a community, to things such as increasing costs, production initiatives and also the impact of external cutoffs," said Ebersohn.

ATCO Gas Bow Valley Operations general supervisor Chris Biegler agreed that district heating has tremendous advantages in both cost and environmental impact.

"We are a partner in the [Drake Landing Solar Community] project in Okotoks," said Biegler. "It's a 52-home project. What we're doing is providing heat for the homes from solar energy. By the time were finished, approximately 90 per cent of their space heating needs will come from solar energy."

Biegler said that the Okotoks project is a demonstration project that will showcase how solar technology could work in a larger district energy system.

"The U of C is a prime example of a district energy system," said Biegler. "The whole campus is a district energy system. There is a central heating plant and each building receives its heat from that plant. We're just trying to learn how all these individual houses can be serviced the same way."

Biegler expects construction of the community is expected to be finished this summer.

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