eSteam™ and the cost-saving benefits of transitioning to clean energy


Many cities across the United States are finding ways to combat climate change by setting ambitious decarbonization goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Urban buildings are notorious for emitting significant carbon emissions into our atmosphere by using fossil fuels for heating and other energy uses. With the Federal government and various states implementing, drafting, and debating new laws, regulations, and programs to swiftly push the clean energy transition, now is the time to consider electrification and move away from natural gas.

Risks to consider with natural gas

While many buildings and homes around the world currently rely on natural gas for heating needs, there are several risks factors that are critical to consider when debating whether to remain on natural gas over cleaner fuel sources.

Operating costs and legislative risk

As we advance towards a low-carbon economy, the likelihood of carbon taxes becoming a roadblock for natural gas consumption is increasing. Building owners must plan for a future when carbon taxes are a reality and consider their choices today to avoid financial consequences in the coming years.

An additional risk building owners must consider is price unpredictability and the looming operating cost increases associated with using natural gas. This legislative uncertainty and price volatility make long-term energy planning difficult.

When buildings install natural gas equipment, they are locked in to using fossil fuels for 30 to 40 years, which is the average life span of the equipment. Given the current political landscape, however, it’s crucial to review all energy options to ensure that buildings can adapt as climate legislation is implemented over the next 5, 10, or even 30 years.

In addition to the future cost of a carbon tax, onsite mechanical plants require ongoing operation and maintenance. Often, this means bringing on full-time staff or contractors to run the system daily. Owners must check their local regulations to ensure they have factored in the appropriate number of staff with the right qualifications and licensing to meet the city’s operational requirements. They must also account for ongoing maintenance, including parts replacement and future upgrades, to keep the system running optimally.

Health and safety concerns

Fossil fuel-based heating systems, such as oil or natural gas furnaces, can contribute to indoor air pollution, which, according to the EPA, is often more dangerous than outdoor air pollutants due to high exposure levels. They release combustion byproducts such as carbon monoxide, which can negatively impact indoor air quality and overall health. As carbon consciousness grows among building tenants and investors, so does the demand for green energy solutions that address concerns about reducing carbon emissions in our atmosphere and preserving our natural resources, air quality, and overall health.

By implementing cost-effective and sustainable electrification solutions, building owners can lower carbon emissions, attract environmentally conscious tenants, improve marketability, and enhance the long-term value of their properties. However, electrifying an existing building can be challenging, expensive, and increase demand for an already overloaded grid network.

Making the switch to electrification

For many building owners, going through a large-scale retrofit project to install electric equipment and facing the increasing monthly cost of retail electricity can be daunting.

The good news is that alternatives are available to aid the transition away from natural gas, without retrofits or upfront capital investment.

Electrifying district energy leverages existing infrastructure to ensure access to reliable and environmentally friendly electrons.

Vicinity’s transition to electric boilers and industrial-scale heat pumps to generate carbon-free eSteam™ eliminates the costs associated with constructing new electric substations—costs that would otherwise be passed onto the ratepayers—and avoids the challenge of permitting and citing new electric infrastructure, especially when gaining public support in urban neighborhoods.

Vicinity’s access to transmission-level electricity rates helps overcome financial barriers associated with installing electrification technologies and is more effective and less disruptive than onsite alternatives like built-in electric boilers. eSteam™ is an invaluable tool for cities and building owners aiming to meet sustainability targets, comply with carbon ordinances, and fulfill tenants’ increasing demands for sustainability.

Understanding eSteam™

By opting for eSteam™, building owners can improve their energy efficiency, reduce their carbon footprint, and prioritize the health and safety of tenants—all while keeping their budgets on track. By installing electric boilers and heat pumps in its large central facilities, purchasing power from the grid at transmission-level rates, and harnessing the energy from rivers, Vicinity can offer all the benefits of the district energy service our customers count on without compromising reliability.

eSteam™ affordability

Our primary goal is to make eSteam™ accessible and affordable for our customers. Affordability is a cornerstone in Vicinity’s electrification plan, ensuring that the transition to carbon-free solutions remains as cost-effective as possible. We make eSteam™ affordable by utilizing our large systems, existing infrastructure, and access to transmission-level rates to help our customers achieve their sustainability goals.

Further, our energy experts are skilled in procurement and equipment dispatch, which allows us to aggregate large loads and operate our equipment optimally to achieve the highest efficiencies at the lowest cost. Vicinity employs two essential strategies:

  1. “Valley” hunting: We can aggregate the load of our customer base and purchase energy when it is the least expensive. In the future, we will install thermal storage so we can purchase power when it is least expensive, produce eSteam™, store it, and distribute the stored steam when our customers need it.
  2. Optimal equipment dispatch: With our team’s extensive operational experience, we can flexibly adapt and dispatch our generating assets to most optimally serve customers. When affordable renewable energy is accessible, we will procure electricity to produce eSteam™. However, when renewable energy becomes scarce or expensive, we can quickly switch to alternative steam-generating equipment to maintain uninterrupted operations and keep costs low.

Through these operational approaches, we are dedicated to delivering the best possible outcomes for our customers without compromise.

Learn more about our electrification plan in our white paper.

Vicinity Energy White Paper - Revolutionizing Urban Sustainability

Sara DeMille

Sara DeMille is Vicinity's Senior Director of Marketing and Communications, and she is based in Boston, MA. She writes about topics related to district energy electrification, a clean energy future, and Vicinity's offerings.