Back to blog home August 23rd, 2017

Having been absent from the Blog page for some time, it is time to get writing again. We had some fun this year preparing our Annual Report for 2016 with the theme, The Art of District Energy. You can see the flip-book version by clicking here.

The team at Markham District Energy (MDE) truly believes that developing a “greenfield” energy system from scratch is a learned art. In many countries, city wide thermal networks is the norm or the law. That is not the case In Ontario. When we started back in 2000, we had the good fortune of connecting a major IBM facility to the new system. IBM did not have to connect to our heating & cooling system; there is no obligation to do so either from the Municipality or the Province. But they did – becoming the anchor customer to what has grown to a major district energy/CHP system over the past 17 years.

Selling the district energy proposition to IBM required a special skill and a special relationship they had with our original team including City Council. Not so much that district energy had operational advantages for customers (IBM already had positive experiences from other locations) but the fact that they would trust a new utility created by the City of Markham to deliver efficient and reliable energy services to a critical IBM facility for 20 years or longer. In the regulated energy world (for electricity or natural gas) customers essentially must connect. For district energy (heating and cooling energy) the easy option is to proceed with the status quo or conventional approaches. An expression we used to hear was “you would never get fired selecting IBM”. You could equally argue that the IBM executives at the time would not have been fired or criticized building their new research laboratory using conventional designs.

Presenting IBM with a value proposition was easy – the benefits were clear. However, agreeing to becoming an anchor customer for a new utility required trust and confidence in the new MDE, and the City of Markham as its shareholder. Congratulations to those involved in the early discussions on both sides. Selling the district energy proposition was an art, from my perspective. For MDE, there is one harsh reality. Had IBM not said yes, the district energy platform in our developing downtown centre may have never been created; and would never have grown into the essential community asset it is