Frequently Asked Questions

With decades of experience delivering affordable, reliable, and sustainable district energy to our customers, we’re ready to answer all your questions.

District Energy

  • What is district energy?

    District energy uses a centrally-located facility, or facilities, to generate thermal energy – heat, hot water, or chilled water – for commercial buildings that form an “energy district.” The energy is transported through underground pipes to meet the needs of commercial and institutional buildings such as life sciences, college and hospital campuses, museums, hospitality, airports, and office parks.

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  • What are the benefits of district energy systems?

    District energy provided multiple advantages:

    • Freedom from asset ownership and the costs associated with maintenance
    • Wholesale energy pricing and stability
    • Efficient energy delivery
    • Greater reliability and redundancy in energy supply
    • Reduced carbon footprint

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  • How quickly can a district energy system recover from a natural disaster event?

    Quickly. District energy systems can isolate issues and have built-in redundancy to leverage multiple generating assets and fuel, power, and water sources to maintain reliable service even in the most demanding weather events.

    If a piece of equipment or utility source is compromised or experiencing any issues, the system can continue to operate by drawing from its backup sources and infrastructure. With insulated carbon steel conduit piping encased in concrete, a district energy network’s distribution system is more robust and resilient than conventional utility alternatives, even during extreme weather events.

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  • Is district energy sustainable?

    Yes. District energy systems are agnostic to fuel type. This fuel flexibility enables the use of lower-carbon, local sources of energy, increasing the resiliency and security of the network and the health of our communities. Decarbonization upgrades to our centralized facilities immediately benefit our entire network. As more new renewable technologies and sources come online, district energy systems can easily integrate these into their existing, robust distribution systems.

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  • Is district energy safe?

    Yes. Unlike onsite generation – which intrinsically involves onsite combustion as part of the energy generation process – district energy is a safer alternative. With district energy, thermal energy is produced at a central facility and distributed to individual buildings via underground piping, eliminating the safety risks associated with onsite generation.

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  • Is steam leaking from manholes in the street?
    No. Water vapor emanating from a manhole or vent in a city street is not a steam leak. It is referred to as secondary vapor resulting from groundwater, potable water, or stormwater coming into close contact with a hot steam pipe and turning into vapor.

  • What is combined heat and power (CHP)?
    Combined heat and power (CHP), also known as cogeneration, is the simultaneous production of electricity and thermal energy from a single energy source. Unlike a traditional power plant that discards excess heat from its power generation process, CHP harnesses this recovered steam for cleanly and efficiently heating and cooling commercial buildings. Two useful end products are created through one process.

  • Decarbonization

  • What is Vicinity's commitment to decarbonization?

    In 2020, Vicinity announced its pledge to achieve net zero carbon emissions across our operations by 2050. Vicinity will eliminate fossil fuels over the next 30 years and rely solely on renewable, carbon-free fuel sources to generate the steam and chilled water we deliver to our customers. We are moving quickly and have made significant progress in meeting our goal.

    Vicinity’s Clean Energy Future articulates our vision and roadmap to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Learn more on our website: Clean Energy Future.

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  • How will Vicinity decarbonize?

    The backbone of Vicinity’s decarbonization plan is the electrification of its operations. Electrified district energy utilizes existing infrastructure at a central facility and the irreplaceable and robust distribution piping to decarbonize urban buildings. Vicinity will import carbon-free electrons through co-located, existing substations to power electric boilers, coupled with industrial-scale heat pumps and thermal batteries, to deliver electrified, clean steam for heating, cooling, sterilization, humidification, and other thermal energy needs.

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  • What progress have you made in achieving your net zero carbon emissions target?

    Vicinity is actively upgrading its operations. We are purchasing renewable and carbon-free electricity to supply power to our equipment and have incorporated biogenic fuels into our operations in Philadelphia, Boston, and Cambridge. We are investing tens of millions in major efficiency projects at our facilities. And we have developed and are executing a robust plan to electrify our steam generation. We are currently procuring our first electric boilers for our facility in Cambridge, MA, and we will purchase renewable energy to power the boilers and deliver carbon-free steam. As part of this plan, we are also pursuing a significant industrial-scale heat pump complex and thermal battery storage.

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  • Can renewables be integrated into district energy systems?

    Yes. While district energy systems have been around for decades, they have an essential role in our effort to decarbonize quickly. District energy systems are agile; they can swiftly and aggressively integrate renewables into their energy mix as more renewable electrons are available on the grid. By replacing fossil fuel infrastructure with electric boilers, heat pumps, thermal batteries, and other clean technology, district energy systems can effectively decarbonize communities without retrofitting or installing new electrical infrastructure in individual buildings.

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  • Electrification

  • What are the benefits of electrifying district energy?

    The benefits of electrification are numerous. 

    • No expensive retrofits – We eliminate the challenge of converting individual buildings. This solution is faster, more cost-competitive, and less capital intensive than building retrofits under mandates.
    • Existing infrastructure – We will use our network of underground pipes to deliver clean, carbon-free steam to customers. Further, many of our facilities have existing electric substations and transmission lines, so no additional investment is needed to access renewable electrons.
    • Cleaner air – We eliminate new gas “stacks” and fossil-burning infrastructure in individual buildings. Communities benefit from cleaner energy sources, which improve city air quality and remove particulates and other pollutants from our neighborhoods.
    • More affordable Because Vicinity has access to wholesale renewable power, we can procure electricity at much lower rates than the average consumer. Further, Vicinity intends to purchase a lot of its power overnight when prices are lower and store it when our customers need it.
    • Reliability – Our ability to fuel switch allows us to be more reliable than other onsite alternatives. Vicinity’s system has built-in redundancies and will continue to access backup fuels as needed in emergencies.

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  • What is thermal storage, and why is it important?

    As part of Vicinity’s electrification plan, we plan to install molten salt or molten silica thermal batteries, which are an excellent means of storing heat. This technology will allow us to procure renewable electrons when prices are low (typically overnight), produce the thermal energy, and store it so that it’s available when our customers need it.

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  • eSteam™

  • What is eSteam™?

    eSteam™ is Vicinity’s unique and innovative carbon-free renewable energy product. eSteam™ offers maximum flexibility and superior economic benefits compared to alternative onsite solutions. Vicinity uses carbon-free, renewable electricity to generate eSteam™, providing rapid decarbonization for commercial and institutional buildings in city centers.

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  • How will Vicinity create and deliver eSteam™?

    To generate and deliver eSteam™, Vicinity is electrifying its operations by installing electric boilers, industrial-scale heat pumps, and thermal battery storage. Vicinity will procure electricity from renewable, carbon-neutral energy sources like wind, solar, and hydro. Leveraging our existing network of underground pipes, we will deliver eSteam™ to our customers without any effort.

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  • What are the benefits of Vicinity’s eSteam™ product for customers?

    Electrification will enable Vicinity to generate steam with a zero-carbon emissions factor. This means that the eSteam™ energy you purchase from Vicinity is clean and sustainable. By using eSteam™, our customers will be able to enjoy many benefits, including 

    • Carbon-free: eSteam™ is a carbon-free renewable energy product for rapid decarbonization 
    • Maximum flexibility: Customers choose how much eSteam™ they want to use and the carbon-free electricity source
    • Superior economics: eSteam™ is the most affordable option to decarbonize your building compared to onsite alternatives
    • Maximum resiliency: Vicinity’s operational flexibility means that we can switch fuel and generating sources to avoid interruptions 

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