What Vicinity Energy’s eSteam™ means for Philadelphia


Today, transitioning to clean and renewable energy benefits our environment and helps businesses in the United States meet cost-saving goals and comply with legislative requirements.

A large share of daily carbon emissions are generated by lighting, heating, and cooling buildings, alongside the other essential elements of commercial operations. Integrating renewable energy resources into existing and future developments is rapidly becoming the standard for adopting a clean energy infrastructure.

As it stands now, the City of Philadelphia has much work to do to meet the standards set forth by the Climate Action Playbook. The playbook’s ambitious goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 will not be possible without the help of innovative energy alternatives that other U.S. cities are implementing today.

With the consequences of climate change already taking effect, the clean energy transition couldn’t be more urgent. In 2019, the City of Philadelphia reported that buildings and industry are the largest contributors to the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for almost 70% of citywide emissions. The majority of emissions come from the energy-intensive commercial, industrial, and residential sectors.

However, the effect of these carbon dioxide emissions on residents’ health has been a concern long before the City’s Playbook was put into action. A Drexel University assessment report predicts that by 2100, energy demand for buildings in Philadelphia will rise due to rising temperatures across the country. Models estimate that by 2100 new buildings will increase cooling requirements by 68.2% for small offices, 50.4% for medium offices, and 53.4% for large offices.

As carbon emissions and temperatures continue to rise, air pollution becomes a growing concern for many residents. At the time of the report, Philadelphia’s asthma prevalence rates were twice the national average among children, and the city has consistently ranked as one of the worst in the country to live in with asthma.

By embracing and investing in renewable energy, Philadelphia will reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, decrease its carbon footprint, and protect city residents and their families for future generations.

Public-private partnership is essential to Philadelphia’s future

In 2021, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney signed a revised and revamped energy pledge for the city alongside the Climate Action Playbook’s commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and transitioning the city to 100% clean energy.

Pennsylvania made progress by becoming the first major fossil fuel state to enter the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI is an initiative of 12 New England and Mid-Atlantic states to cap and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector while generating economic growth.

Stricter emissions regulations are beginning to take effect in other cities across the U.S., such as Boston’s Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO 2.0). The ordinance sets requirements for large buildings to lower their energy usage to reduce the City’s carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. In the coming years, Philadelphia will likely enact a similar policy, requiring businesses to swiftly transition to adopt renewable energy technologies.

It’s clear that despite progressing towards its 2050 goal, the City of Philadelphia needs help to achieve this milestone. Commercial and residential buildings throughout the city need to take steps to become more energy efficient. The push towards a clean energy future for Philadelphians requires public-private partnership and the widespread adoption of renewable energy.

Addressing Philadelphia’s clean energy goals

As Philadelphia heads into a development boom, solidifying its leadership in education, life sciences, and medicine, businesses must take every opportunity to prioritize the environment by implementing clean energy technologies. Along with new properties, existing buildings can further green their energy supply with district energy.

The district energy system has already proven to be one of the most valuable tools at Philadelphia’s disposal when it comes to saving money, optimizing building space, and reducing the city’s carbon footprint. For years, Philadelphia businesses like The Wanamaker building, Drexel University, Wills Eye Hospital, and Jefferson Health have benefitted from green steam and reliable energy service to meet their mission-critical needs.

At Vicinity, we have made multimillion-dollar investments to improve Philly’s critical energy infrastructure, enabling our district energy system to reduce carbon emissions by nearly 300,000 tons annually. Vicinity is taking further steps to decarbonize our operations in Philadelphia by 2030 or sooner.

With the recent launch of eSteam™, the nation’s first commercial renewable thermal energy product, and through partnership opportunities with innovative landlords like IQHQ, Vicinity is well on its way to begin decarbonizing new and existing buildings across our locations.

Rather than using conventional natural gas boilers to power our systems, Vicinity is installing electric boilers, molten salt thermal battery storage, and industrial-scale heat pumps to generate eSteam™. These innovative technologies allow us to harness renewable power from alternative and clean energy sources such as wind, solar, and hydro.

Vicinity’s Philadelphia team has already begun scoping and designing our plant in Grays Ferry to make eSteam™ available for our customers as early as 2025. We are beyond excited by the overwhelmingly positive response to our plan among advocates, policymakers, and customers.

As Vicinity transitions to a fully carbon-free product, Philadelphia buildings can decrease their carbon emissions today by connecting to the district energy system and taking advantage of our green steam. In doing so, building owners will have a unique opportunity to get ahead of potential carbon regulations as we build on existing infrastructure to deliver eSteam™ to our customers, making it considerably more affordable than other onsite alternatives.

The electrification of district energy systems is a game changer for the environment, our communities, and our collective future. Imagine what a cleaner, more environmentally focused future could mean for Philadelphia and what it will do to broaden Philadelphia’s developmental future for decades to come.

Learn more about our electrification plan in our white paper.

Vicinity Energy White Paper - Revolutionizing Urban Sustainability

Pamela Clark

Pamela Clark serves as Vicinity's Chief Commercial Officer. She writes about topics relating to the decarbonization of our cities, a clean energy future, and the power of district energy.