Reimagining the energy industry: an inflection point for decarbonization efforts


As a coastal city, Boston is particularly vulnerable to the negative and real impact of climate change. Over the next several decades, according to a new report from the University of Massachusetts Boston, this region will almost certainly see hotter days, increasingly intense storms, and rising sea levels. Current guidance coming out of local and state government – such as Boston’s updated Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO 2.0), which sets requirements for large buildings to reduce their energy and water use data, stretch codes which are mandated so buildings will achieve higher energy savings, and growing investments in green and renewable energy technologies – are prescriptive policies that will help lower greenhouse gas emissions and hopefully slow climate change’s tide.

Still, with the recent Supreme Court decision curtailing the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, achieving a 50 percent drop in emissions by 2030 or a net zero future with the remaining tools from a federal regulation standpoint will be increasingly challenging. This ruling affirms the local business community’s role in achieving net zero, particularly in Greater Boston. In a way, it is an opportunity for creative solutions to drive what needs to be done.

Coming from the government world, I am excited to be part of the solution. And with 2022 now at its midpoint – an inflection point regarding how environmental progress will be achieved locally and nationally, I thought I would share an update on the state of play from our perspective.

Recently there’s been momentum in the environmental world regarding the usage of old technology with an innovative, fresh lens. For instance, cargo bikes are an efficient and environmentally friendly method for making last-mile deliveries. A study last year by Possible, a British advocacy group, found that electric cargo bikes cut carbon emissions by 90% compared with traditional diesel vans and by a third compared with electric vans, according to the report. Air pollution was also significantly reduced. The bikes also delivered approximately 60% faster than vans in urban centers, had a higher average speed, and dropped off ten items an hour, compared with six items for vans. Meanwhile, unlike plastic, glass bottles are a fully sustainable and recyclable resource that also provides fantastic environmental benefits like a longer life cycle and lower carbon footprint. It is also made of natural raw materials and has an enhanced ability to preserve food.

This is precisely what we are doing at Vicinity. In April, we announced the launch of eSteam™, an innovation designed to rapidly decarbonize the highest source of emissions in major cities and commercial buildings. Our company is the first in the U.S. to electrify our operations, offering renewable thermal energy by installing electric boilers, industrial-scale heat pumps, and thermal storage at our central facilities starting in Boston and Cambridge, with other locations to follow.

In cities like Boston and Cambridge, buildings account for nearly 70% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Think about how changing the fuel source can have a profound impact, whether on coal, oil, natural gas, or combined heat and power (CHP) plants. Now is the time to transition from natural gas to renewable, clean energy. That is precisely what this new electrified system will be able to accomplish: modernizing how district energy is approached.

If we are serious about decarbonization, we must be bold and reimagine our industry. That’s what is being done at Vicinity Energy, and we are looking to best practices from similar steam loops in other parts of the world. Copenhagen, Malmö, and Drammen use district energy to meet and surpass their respective climate goals. Our goal is to be the first in the U.S. to lead in this space. Vicinity is uniquely poised to serve as a national leader in building decarbonization. The time for action is now. Our customers want it, our cities ask for it, and our planet demands it.

We are proud of what we are accomplishing.

Learn more about our electrification plan in our white paper.

Vicinity Energy White Paper - Revolutionizing Urban Sustainability

Matt O'Malley

Matt O'Malley is Vicinity's first-ever Chief Sustainability Officer, responsible for leading the company’s decarbonization efforts and guiding the execution of Vicinity’s Clean Energy Future, Net Zero Carbon plan. He writes about topics related to decarbonization, district energy, and creating a clean energy future.