Back to blog home March 10th, 2015

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in collaboration with the Copenhagen Centre on Energy Efficiency (C2E2) launched its most recent report, District Energy in Cities: Unlocking the Potential of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy on February 25, 2015.

Download the Full Report

The Report discusses how local authorities can develop energy efficient and climate-resistant district energy systems as one of the most cost-effective solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Cities account for 70% of global energy use and up to 50% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. One of the report’s conclusions is that transitioning cities to modern district energy systems could reduce primary energy consumption by up to 50% by 2050.

According to Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, “Our response and our ability to keep the world within a 2ºC scenario, has led us to focus on district energy in cities. These are practical, reliable, bring benefits to consumers, and they generate benefits in terms of our response to climate change.”

View the Report Launch Video

The report’s conclusions surrounding district energy and greenhouse gas emissions support MDE’s statements over the years that GHG emissions are significantly reduced in Markham Centre when comparing performance of the community scale heating and cooling system to conventional energy equipment (boilers and chillers) operating in stand-alone buildings.

The Report also observes that district energy systems can contribute to the green economy transition through cost savings from avoided or deferred investment in power generation infrastructure and peak capacity, wealth creation through reduced fossil fuel expenditures, local tax revenue and employment.

Markham confirmed this observation several years ago when it participated as one of four municipalities in a pilot study by Natural Resources Canada. The study utilized a new economic model known as DEEM (the District Energy Economic Multiplier). The model was complex, but its purpose was simple; to calculate additional economic benefits to Markham as a result of its decision to invest in district energy (jobs, economic development, local supply, tax base etc.). The goal of the model was to determine if the City had been successful attracting and keeping the dollars in Markham. DEEM estimated that for every $1.00 Markham had invested in district energy during the ten year period 2000 through 2010, the investment had generated $1.37 in additional economic activity to the local economy.

The Report also encourages cities to build or transition to modern district energy systems. So what does “modern” mean in the context of district energy? The application of district energy has been around for over a 100 years. In Ontario, London’s system was first commissioned in 1880 and the University of Toronto’s in 1912. The concept of “thermally” connecting multiple buildings in a campus or community is not new. However, the technology and fuel sources have continued to evolve. The goal is to increase efficiency and lower emissions. Newer systems produce power and heat from a single fuel source (known as cogeneration or combined heat and power) and incorporate clean and renewable fuels (natural gas, biomass, solar thermal). Modern systems have also evolved from steam to hot water providing the opportunity to utilize thermal storage (the storage of hot water recovered from cogeneration operations to be used when needed most to heat the community).

District cooling is also growing rapidly. While some parts of Canada still do not need centralized cooling, the Report notes that space cooling energy has increased 60% globally from 2000 to 2010, and is expected to grow another 625% by 2050 in some regions such as Latin America and Asia.

Community scale district cooling systems (including ours in Markham) operate at efficiencies far greater than plants in individual buildings, dramatically reduce water usage locally, and provide the opportunity to shift electrical load to off-peak hours with thermal storage technology.

The City of Markham was on the right track long before climate change was universally understood and some fifteen years before this United Nations report. Citizens of Markham, give yourselves a pat on the back.

Bruce Ander