District energy

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
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • How does district energy compare to ground source heat pumps/geothermal?
    Ground source heat pumps are not appropriate for all end uses. Converting to a ground-source heat pump would require substantial building retrofits and capital investment for many customers. Further, heat pumps are only sometimes technically viable for many customers, like biotechnology companies, laboratories, or hospitals, with unique energy requirements and high demand. These customers require reliability for critical processes, and heat pumps introduce risk to their operations. If a building uses heat pumps, coupling with district energy ensures reliability and affordability, especially during peaks and carbon neutrality. Finally, in-building heat pumps will struggle to meet a building’s temperature requirements on cold days. Below a specific ambient temperature, the heat pump cannot warm up the air in a building to a tenant’s desired comfort level. Comparatively, district energy is a better, more efficient means to heat a building to the appropriate temperature during the winter.   

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Contact our team to learn more about how Vicinity can help you achieve your energy and sustainability goals.