Preparing chilled water and cooling equipment for the summer

In the fall, looming cold temperatures and potential storms signal the need for preventative maintenance activities at Vicinity’s central facilities and customers’ buildings. However, as we approach summer’s warmer temperatures, preventative maintenance is just as important.

During the winter months, certain equipment often lies dormant, making it imperative to assess components of chilled water systems and other cooling equipment well in advance of heightened cooling demands. While some property owners diligently prepare their equipment for the impending heat, it is a timely reminder to consult with your energy provider regarding recommended preventive maintenance for the summer season, whether you rely on district chilled water or steam for cooling or manage your onsite chillers and cooling towers.

Why summer preventive maintenance is critical

As spring begins, it presents an opportunity to inspect cooling equipment that lay dormant throughout the heating season. Implementing preventive measures before the onset of summer and escalating temperatures can yield numerous benefits:

  • Improve equipment reliability, function, and overall lifespan
  • Reduce energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and operational costs
  • Prevent unplanned costs and even system downtime
  • Enhance safety and comfort for employees and building occupants
  • Maintain efficient energy delivery
  • Ensure the long-term sustainability of a property

How to prepare cooling equipment for warm weather

Partnering with our customers, Vicinity’s team tailors our preventive maintenance approach to the unique needs of each building. Preventive maintenance activities can be done at any time but are typically conducted in preparation for the winter and the summer to prepare for peak loads due to temperature changes.

Whether customers need support with recommissioning an onsite cooling system or performing seasonal shutdowns to prepare steam systems for the summer, Vicinity’s operations and maintenance experts can help ensure the equipment will operate effectively for the coming summer and the next heating season. Depending on the building’s system, our team can isolate a maintenance issue or conduct a small shutdown event to repair equipment. Ahead of summer temperatures, Vicinity’s team can test a building’s chilled water or steam system during off hours or weekends to identify any problems.

Several elements of cooling systems require inspection every year or more. Let’s dive into the most critical components buildings should focus on when preparing for the cooling season.

Heat exchanger and water samples

A heat exchanger is a system that transfers heat between a source and a working fluid. In the winter, district energy systems transfer heat from the hot water in the district heating system to the cold water in an individual building’s heating system. In the summer, district chilled water customers rely on this equipment to leverage Vicinity’s chilled water to circulate cool air throughout their buildings.

To ensure that heat exchangers function properly, Vicinity’s team takes water samples from the heat exchanger and tests the water for conductivity. This test helps ensure that tube bundles are not leaking and that city water is not entering the system through such leaks. It’s also important to make sure these systems are clean and are not experiencing any leaks.

Pressure Regulating Valves (PRVs)

Pressure regulating valves (PRVs) are designed to reduce incoming steam pressure to ensure safe steam distribution. Vicinity’s team identifies the PRV’s make, model, size, and serial number. They will then test the valve for leaks, clean orifices, check diaphragm plates, test the gauging, and set it to the desired system pressure.

Testing PRVs is important because failed PRVs may cause system over-pressurization and relief values to release steam into the atmosphere. If a PRV fails, it can also improperly cycle open and closed, oversupplying and then starving the downstream equipment of steam. Testing includes inspecting the PRV operating mechanism (pneumatic, hydraulic, or motor-operated). Whether a building turns off steam for summer or leverages steam for cooling purposes, PRV testing is critical for overall system efficiency and reducing any potential energy losses.

Mechanical room hot water loop

In a building’s mechanical room, Vicinity’s team inspects all piping, inlet/outlet temperatures, and pressures on heat exchangers and mechanical pumps.

This inspection confirms the adequate operation of key energy transfer equipment, such as heat exchangers, which supply building heat, hot water, and other process loads. It is also important to note the general condition and function testing of space heaters and heat tracing.

Cooling towers and chillers

Chillers and cooling towers are important components of some buildings’ cooling systems. While chillers cool down water using a refrigerant, which is then circulated through the building to absorb heat from the air, cooling towers then reject heat from the chillers’ condenser water and return it to the condenser at a lower temperature as part of the system’s refrigeration cycle.

Vicinity can partner with customers who do not leverage district chilled water and own onsite cooling towers and chillers, providing additional operation and maintenance support to ensure a seamless transition to summer.

Cooling tower maintenance activities for customers who own and operate onsite equipment include disinfecting equipment ahead of seasonal startup to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria; replacing oil in gearboxes to prevent friction and corrosion; performing vibration analysis to mitigate risks related to increased noise, safety concerns, and system inefficiencies; inspecting and repairing distribution spray pipes and nozzles; cleaning basins; and upgrading fan blades and drive shafts as needed.

Chiller maintenance includes removing any dirt or debris collected throughout the year to optimize airflow; checking levels of refrigerant and assessing if additional refrigerant should be added; inspecting all chiller and condenser pumps; cleaning and servicing all variable frequency drives (VFDs) and glycol heat exchangers, the equipment used to cool VFDs; taking oil samples and adjusting levels; and cleaning condenser tubes to maximize equipment lifespan and improve overall energy efficiency.

Summer preparedness checklist

Vicinity’s facilities, especially those with chilled water, take extensive measures to prepare for summer temperatures before the beginning of April. This ensures that our facilities and teams are prepared for any weather or heat-related emergency.

There are several steps that every building should take, however, to ensure summer readiness. Check out our complete checklist to prepare staff and equipment for the coming warm temperatures.

Vicinity’s experts are here to help

Taking proactive steps to maintain your building’s energy systems and prepare for the summer can lead to significant benefits. From lower energy use and carbon emissions to increased safety awareness, the effort invested in preparing your building for hot weather pays off.

Vicinity’s experts are here to help with all your energy needs year-round. Give our energy experts a call to:

  • Work on repairs
  • Submit quotes before the coming cooling season
  • Get help preparing your budgets for next year
  • Schedule a site visit to get preventive maintenance assessments from our team
  • Explore leveraging chilled water or steam for cooling
  • Get support for operating and maintaining your onsite chillers and cooling towers

Learn more about Vicinity’s comprehensive maintenance services offered year-round to optimize building systems’ efficiency, reliability, and cost savings.

The top seven questions to ask when selecting an energy provider

Facility managers and building owners have many options to consider regarding heating and cooling a property. However, evaluating these options isn’t always straightforward.

To ensure decision-makers make the best choice to meet their organization’s business objectives, these questions are critical to ask when vetting energy providers.

1. What are the lifecycle costs?

A lifecycle cost analysis will give you the most comprehensive picture of an energy option’s costs and benefits. You can then use this data-backed analysis to support your decision when discussing energy alternatives with internal stakeholders.

An energy lifecycle cost analysis typically reviews costs over a 20-year cycle, to account for the full lifespan of energy infrastructure. A typical lifecycle cost analysis assesses the following variables:

  • The up-front costs required to finance the energy option
  • Costs associated with operating and maintaining the infrastructure
  • Variable energy costs related to the infrastructure, such as fuel costs
  • Fixed costs such as taxes, insurance, and capacity rates

It’s essential to understand how your energy provider can help your organization mitigate capital risk. District energy systems, for example, often help reduce capital risk by avoiding large upfront costs and ongoing maintenance costs.

Steam distribution systems can interface with any type of HVAC building system to provide low cost and reliable thermal energy and cooling. Centrally produced chilled water eliminates the need for customers to purchase, operate, and maintain chillers and cooling towers. These benefits allow building owners to take advantage of competitive energy pricing and eliminate capital costs, interest payments, property taxes, and insurance costs.

2. What renewable energy options do you provide?

Today, many companies and institutions have sustainability goals to meet, and energy decisions directly impact these initiatives.

As your organization seeks to reduce its carbon footprint, an energy infrastructure decision should be influenced by the solution’s emissions output and a provider’s ability to adopt more sustainable energy options in the future.

Decision-makers should explore the energy provider’s renewable energy options and inquire about their plans to incorporate more sustainable fuels into their energy mix. This will help reduce an organization’s carbon footprint and attract top tenants who prioritize working in a sustainable, energy-efficient space.

In addition, buildings that do not conform with local, state, and federal climate legislation requirements can pose several risks to organizations. In many places, the risk of non-compliance can include fines, damaged brand image, and the increasing costs of green technologies over time.

District energy systems, however, are fuel agnostic, meaning 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.

This sustainable pathway is a major strategic advantage for district energy over other energy options, especially when companies like Vicinity Energy are setting customers on a rapid pathway to decarbonization by 2050, when many emissions standards will be in effect.

3. What are my opportunity costs?

It is also important to consider the opportunity costs associated with your investment decision, such as the loss of potential gain by opting for an alternative.

For example, by spending capital on a new mechanical room, more budget is needed to invest in your core operations. For a hospital, this budget could be used for new technologies or equipment to treat patients, upgrades or expansions to tenant spaces for commercial real estate, or a new lab building on a college campus to educate students.

Depending upon the required capital cost for an energy infrastructure project, it’s important to consider the investments your organization forego that could better serve your customers or constituents.

Space is also associated with opportunity costs, particularly in cities where it is limited and expensive. Typically, mechanical rooms, large chiller or boiler plants, and cooling towers take up a considerable amount of space within urban buildings that could otherwise be used to drive income with amenities and parking.

4. Can you explain our energy usage patterns?

Once service begins, the potential to better understand your property’s energy usage is critical. Discovering when a space’s usage peaks and ebbs can help with budgeting and adjusting consumption habits accordingly.

Access to resources that track your energy consumption empowers tenants to identify patterns and areas for improved efficiency. Vicinity’s team can provide our customers with a monthly or yearly report that details their energy usage, including when it was highest and lowest.

5. Are your energy systems redundant?

Redundancy is a critical feature to look for in your energy provider. A redundant system is an electrical system designed to feature two or more of the same power supply. This means that if one power supply fails, the extra power supply will be able to take over the full operation of the system. Redundancy ensures that your energy supply remains uninterrupted and continues service even during an emergency.

District energy systems have built-in redundancies with numerous backup sources, equipment, and infrastructure. Because these systems operate at scale, district energy systems like Vicinity’s can eliminate the risk, headache, and expense associated with maintaining building mechanical rooms.

A district energy system’s ability to switch fuel allows Vicinity to be more reliable than other alternatives; as our systems transition to cleaner fuels, we will still have access to backup fuels if needed in an emergency.

6. What level of support do you provide regarding maintenance and equipment?

Operations and maintenance (O&M) for a facility or on-site energy system requires expertise in several cross-departmental fields and could require full-time staff or contractors to operate the system. You must check your local regulations to ensure you factor in the appropriate number of people with the right qualifications and licensing to meet your city’s requirements.

Owners must also account for ongoing maintenance, including parts replacements and future upgrades, to keep the system running optimally. Asking energy providers to demonstrate their level of support can help ensure your business will be spending only what is necessary in the future.

By outsourcing the management of energy infrastructure to Vicinity experts, our customers minimize their energy-related costs, maximize efficiencies, and devote more focus to their core mission.

An energy provider with expertise in O&M can help minimize operational risk for your organization, while maximizing infrastructure investments by keeping building energy systems working at peak performance for years to come.

7. What are your emergency procedures in case of power outages?

For buildings and tenants where operations are mission-critical, it is essential to prepare for natural disasters and power outages. Hospitals and life sciences laboratories, for example, need a reliable energy source to guarantee they can perform research and provide critical surgeries and life-saving procedures.

Whether it be a power outage, mechanical interruption, or extreme weather event, your energy provider should be able to detail their plan to resume service and ensure the safety of all parties involved.

For instance, district energy systems are incredibly resilient in the face of a service interruption. Due to their ability to isolate issues and utilize various fuel sources in an emergency, these systems can maintain extremely reliable service even in the most demanding weather events or emergencies. By design, district energy infrastructure comprises insulated carbon steel conduit piping encased in concrete, which will withstand flooding and other extreme weather.

Vicinity’s team undergoes regular safety training to ensure safety is a daily tenet of our day-to-day operations. Our employees are armed with the tools and resources needed to ensure work is always conducted safely and that emergency protocols are carried out in the face of a service interruption or safety hazard.

Making the right choice

Ultimately, the factors that lead to your energy infrastructure decision will be unique to your organization’s goals and circumstances. However, by posing these essential questions to energy providers, building owners can be empowered to make more informed purchasing decisions, save on costs, and contribute to a greener future.

Preparing heating equipment for winter with preventive maintenance

As the days grow shorter and temperatures drop, heating systems are finally turned on after a long period of disuse. This time of year signals the important task of evaluating a building’s energy system to ensure it is equipped to deliver heat efficiently and safely.

Building owners must establish a preventive maintenance program with their energy provider to maintain efficient energy delivery, avoid equipment failures, reduce energy costs, and ensure the long-term sustainability of a commercial property.

Why preventive maintenance is critical

The winter season is a key time to evaluate the equipment used in buildings connected to district energy systems. Taking preventive measures with a building’s heating equipment before the winter season and low temperatures begin in earnest can help to:

  • Improve equipment reliability and function
  • Reduce energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and operational costs
  • Prevent unplanned costs, maintenance, and even system downtime
  • Enhance safety for employees and building occupants

How to prepare heating equipment for cold weather

Partnering with our customers, Vicinity’s team tailors our preventive maintenance approach to the unique needs of each building.Preventive maintenance activities can be done any time but are typically conducted in preparation for the winter and the summer to prepare for peak loads due to temperature changes

Depending on the building’s system, our team can isolate a maintenance issue or conduct a small shutdown event to repair equipment. Ahead of low temperatures, buildings can also test their heating system during off hours or weekends to identify any problems with climate control or local area flow control.

However, several elements of district energy systems require inspection every year or more. Let’s dive into the most critical components buildings should focus on when preparing for the heating season.

Steam trap inspections

Steam traps collect condensate to prevent corrosion caused by built-up moisture and ensure that high-quality, dry steam flows through the steam system. Steam traps also block the escape of live steam, minimizing energy waste. Typically done between November and March, steam trap surveys help ensure the efficient delivery of district energy.

A Vicinity technician conducts the steam trap inspection using an ultrasonic digital detector. The process involves locating, identifying, tagging, and periodically testing the performance of the steam trap. If it is the first survey, the technician tags and catalogs each trap for future surveys.

Failed traps can allow large amounts of steam to pass through the equipment before giving up its thermal energy content. Failed traps can lead to water hammers, which damage the building’s system and produce undesirable noise.

Pressure Regulating Valves (PRVs)

Pressure regulating valves (PRVs) are designed to reduce incoming steam pressure to ensure safe steam distribution. While typically done in the summer, testing pressure regulating valves can be done at any time to prepare for the winter season.

Vicinity’s team will typically identify the PRV’s make, model, size, and serial number. They will then test the valve for leaks, clean orifices, test the gauging, and set it to the desired system pressure.

Testing PRVs is important because failed PRVs may cause system over-pressurization and relief valves to release steam into the atmosphere. The PRV can also improperly cycle open and closed, both oversupplying and then starving the downstream equipment of steam. The inspection will include inspecting the PRV operating mechanism (pneumatic, hydraulic, or motor operated).

Heat exchanger and water samples

A heat exchanger is a system that transfers heat between a source and a working fluid. District energy systems transfer heat from the hot water in the district heating system to the cold water in an individual building’s heating system.

To ensure that heat exchangers function properly, Vicinity’s team takes water samples from the heat exchanger and tests the water for conductivity. This test helps ensure that tube bundles are not leaking and that city water is not entering the system through such leaks.

Vicinity’s team also drains cooling tower heaters during cold weather. When temperatures are expected to be below 20 degrees F for an extended period, the cooling tower basin heaters are drained below the building roof level, the basin heater is turned off, and space heaters are turned on as applicable. Our team also works to adjust glycol or other antifreeze concentrations throughout the cooling system, as required. 

Steam pipe

Before the winter season, it’s standard to visually inspect steam piping. Vicinity’s team typically checks for leaking joints, watermarks, insulation, and corrosion on the pipes.

This ensures safe, reliable steam delivery into the building and reduces the opportunity for steam to leak into the connected building.

Condensate return line

A visual inspection of the building’s condensate return line is done ahead of the winter season to check for leaks and corrosion. A condensate return system collects condensate from different points in the system and returns it to the boiler to save energy. This inspection involves checking the condensate pump seals for leaks and vent pipes for vapor emissions. Proper insulation and plugging penetrations is key to preventing freeze ups.

This inspection is done to avoid condensate water spills and ensure proper evacuation of condensate from system lines, allowing steam-operated equipment to function correctly. The test can also help identify any leaking steam traps in the system.

Mechanical room hot water loop

In the mechanical room of a building, Vicinity’s team inspects all piping, inlet/outlet temperatures, and pressures on heat exchangers and mechanical pumps.

This inspection confirms the adequate operation of key energy transfer equipment, such as heat exchangers, which supply building heat, hot water, and other process loads. The general condition and function testing of space heaters and heat tracing is important to note as well.

Winter preparedness checklist

Vicinity’s facilities take extensive measures to prepare for the winter weather before the month of November to make sure our teams are prepared for any extreme weather or cold-related emergency that comes up.

There are steps that every building should take, however, to ensure winter preparedness:

  • Designate a ‘weather watcher’ to monitor weather conditions.
  • Train your team on how to properly remove snow from roofs, roads, and equipment, staff according to needs.
  • Gather emergency supplies, including steam hoses for thawing frozen lines, portable heaters, antifreeze supplies for cooling systems, shovels, warm clothing and hand protection.
  • Keep all fire-protection-related equipment free of snow and ice for easy access.
  • Check wet and dry sprinkler systems and keep them clear of snow and ice.
  • Prepare snow removal equipment.
  • Make sure fixed and portable heaters are working and have appropriate fuel levels.
  • Ensure the building envelope is in good condition and close unnecessary openings like doors, windows, and piping penetrations.

Vicinity’s experts are here to help

Taking proactive steps to maintain your building’s energy systems can lead to significant benefits. From lower energy bills to a reduced carbon footprint, the effort invested in preparing your facility for winter pays off. Vicinity’s energy experts are here to help with all your energy needs. Give our energy experts a call to:

  • Work on repairs
  • Submit quotes before the coming heating season
  • Get help preparing your budgets for next year
  • Schedule a site visit to get preventive maintenance assessments from our team

The extended benefits of digital billing and payments

Our commitment to sustainability and our customers extends beyond providing clean, affordable energy solutions to decarbonize cities and communities.

Partnering with both J.P. Morgan Chase and leading billing and payment solution provider Paymentus, our team has made a key transformation to increase digitization and allow our customers flexibility in paying their monthly invoices through an online bill pay option at www.vicinityenergy.us.

Bringing greater convenience to bill pay

Vicinity’s bill pay portal offers new payment methods that will deliver greater flexibility in how customers pay and manage their monthly invoices, accepting both ACH debit payments and all major credit cards.

To make monthly payments as simple as possible, we have also added AutoPay to our payment options. Customers who sign up for AutoPay enjoy “set-it-and-forget-it” convenience by automatically having their payment made each month. This capability allows customers to set a preferred payment date (e.g., the 20th calendar date of every month, or the due date on your monthly invoice) and automatically make payment from the customer’s saved bank account or credit card each month. Customers will receive payment confirmation once the payment has been made and can edit or cancel AutoPay elections anytime.

To sign up for AutoPay, visit the bill pay portal and select AutoPay within the menu. You can set your preferred payment date and enter your payment information.

Reducing our carbon footprint

An extended benefit of our digital customer payment portal is the reduction of paper consumption. Our commitment to net zero carbon is about more than the energy we provide and how we provide it: by reducing the amount of paper in our billing and payment process, we can ensure that we are limiting the environmental impact of our entire business operation.

Payment options, including AutoPay and credit cards, help us eliminate dependence on paper-based processes. These processes are faster, more efficient, and aligned with our mission of lowering our carbon footprint and curbing climate change.

Getting started

The customer payment portal offers an intuitive design that makes managing your account accessible than ever—simply login to your account to view the full menu of payment options and set your preferences.

For more information on our bill pay portal and how it can help you better manage and pay your invoice, please contact us or visit our frequently asked questions page.

Vicinity Energy’s 2022 year in review

2022 has been a momentous year for climate progress, both in the U.S. and around the world. Here at Vicinity, we’re reflecting on some of the most critical moments this year for both the global climate community and our company’s role as a clean energy leader.

Global climate progress

2022 was a year for groundbreaking climate legislation and productive talks around the world in efforts to curb the negative effects of climate change.

In August, the U.S. Senate reached a groundbreaking $369 billion climate agreement, The Inflation Reduction Act. The Act is a milestone victory for the green sector, with a record-shattering investment in emissions-free energy production. It promises to cut carbon emissions by 40% nationwide and massively overhaul how Americans get their electricity, heating, and cooling.

The Inflation Reduction Act incentivizes developers to build new emissions-free electricity sources, such as geothermal heating, wind turbines, and solar panels, by offering billions of dollars in tax credits over ten years. Overall, the legislation is exciting as it stands to rapidly speed up the U.S.’s transition away from fossil fuels and bring us closer to the emissions targets set in the Paris Climate Accord.

In December, the Biden Administration also announced the first-ever Federal Building Performance Standard (BPS), which aims to cut energy use and electrify equipment and appliances in 30% of Federally owned building space by 2030.

This announcement paves the way for Federal buildings to adopt cleaner, more energy-efficient technologies. This transition to green energy is critical to achieving President Biden’s net-zero emissions goal across all Federal buildings by 2045.

In November, COP27 was held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and a slew of promising conversations came out of the discussions between global leaders.

‘Greenwashing’ was a key topic of conversation at this year’s COP27 talks. The UN released a report taking aim at “greenwashing” and calling for private companies and city governments that have made net-zero pledges to publicly report on their progress with verified information. As more and more organizations pledge their carbon reductions goals, global leaders are calling for accountability and transparency in the steps they are taking to meet these goals.

Our Clean Energy Future progress

This year, Vicinity has taken some critical steps to reach net zero carbon emissions across all our operations by 2050 or sooner.

In April, we launched eSteam™, an innovative carbon-free product designed to rapidly decarbonize the highest source of emissions in major cities: commercial buildings.

We are offering renewable thermal energy to our customers by installing electric boilers, industrial-scale heat pumps, and thermal storage at our central facilities starting in Boston and Cambridge, with our other districts to follow.

Our first electric asset will enter service in late 2024, when we will procure electricity from renewable, carbon-free energy sources such as wind, solar, and hydro to generate eSteam™.

IQHQ will be Vicinity’s first customer to power the rapid decarbonization of its buildings in Boston with carbon-free eSteam™.

In November, we officially kicked off our electrification plans with the deconstruction of a steam turbine at the Kendall Green Energy Cogeneration Facility. We will install an electric boiler in its place that will enter service in 2024 and help our customers in Boston and Cambridge decarbonize their buildings.

Boston Mayor Michelle Wu helped commemorate the day at our Kendall facility. “It is clear that the work of ensuring our planet remains livable is going to require all of us: every level of government, business, and community,” Mayor Wu noted at the event. “We’re very grateful that Vicinity’s carbon-free eSteam™ product will power the leading industries we’re already known for here in Greater Boston such as life sciences, healthcare, commercial real estate, and many more.”

Boston Mayor Wu with Vicinity Energy

While our electrification plans have taken shape this year, we’ve also continued to serve our customers with the most sustainable energy possible and repurpose existing equipment at our facilities.

We’ve continued to utilize biogenic fuels to power our operations in Boston, Cambridge, and Philadelphia. LR100 is a unique biogenic fuel derived from waste cooking oil and fats discarded by the local food service industry.

This fuel has helped us reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and allows us to generate lower-carbon steam in the very same communities from which it came. The use of biogenic fuels in our Philadelphia facility has helped reduce Vicinity cut carbon emissions by 12,200 tons, or the equivalent of removing 2,650 cars from Philadelphia’s roads each year.

To store this biogenic fuel and provide our Boston and Cambridge customers with low-carbon steam, our Kendall Cogeneration Facility has repurposed an old natural gas boiler to store the biogenic fuel.

Our Environmental Health & Safety teams around the country were also hard at work this year to better communities and lead green projects at our facilities.

Some of this work includes:

  • Lighting & water audits
  • PV array planning
  • Planting trees
  • Electric vehicles
  • Groundwater injection
  • Fire safety and review
  • Refillable water stations
  • Recycling initiatives, including recycling around 200 lbs. of Keurig cups with TerraCycle
  • Supporting environmental legislation at the local, state, and federal levels

Women at Vicinity Energy (W@VE)

Women at Vicinity Energy (WAVE)

This year, Vicinity proudly rolled out “W@VE”, our new women’s network dedicated to fostering career development and leadership opportunities for women at Vicinity.

Some of the objectives established for the program include constructing a supportive community of women, attracting talent for career advancement and leadership opportunities, building a network of advocates and mentors to improve diversity and inclusion within the organization, and providing mentoring and access to senior leadership.

Our co-directors Jaklyn Cross and Medina Jones kickstarted this program back in October and have since led some empowering discussions regarding the two books we have read this year, “Own the Room” by Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maigan and “You are a Badass” by Jen Sincero. We look forward to more opportunities to cultivate the talent of women in our community as they continue to embrace their individuality and strive towards achieving their full potential.

Awards we received

In 2022, we were honored to receive several awards by industry organizations, local communities, and administrations. We are grateful for the teams, partners, and communities that made this year so monumental.

For the second year in a row, Vicinity has been voted the “Best Alternative Energy Company in Philadelphia” by the local community in Metro Philadelphia’s 2022 Philly’s Best awards.Vicinity Energy receives award for Outstanding Mechanical Installation

In June, our Kansas City team was awarded with an Outstanding Mechanical Installation (OMI) Award in the large mechanical project class by the Mechanical Contractors Association (MCA) of Kansas City, Missouri, for our chilled water lateral expansion project.

The project expanded Vicinity’s district energy system piping 12,000 ft. to serve chilled water to the west side of Kansas City’s Central Business District. In conjunction with contractors Enerfab and engineers at Davidson Architecture + Engineering, the project included the interconnection of three customer buildings to be served by the lateral expansion: Flashcube apartments, KC Downtown Convention Center Hotel, and the MC Realty-owned 114 W. 11th Street.Vicinity Energy receives award from the International District Energy Association

In June, Vicinity was also recognized by the International District Energy Association (IDEA) for the growth of our services in Baltimore, Boston, and Cambridge.

The annual award highlights industry growth, recognizing the district energy systems with the largest total number of buildings and building area in square feet committed or recommitted to district energy service by IDEA member systems.Vicinity Energy receives Governor's Award for Environmental Excellence

In April, Vicinity’s Philadelphia team was honored for our commitment to sustainability with the Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence by Governor Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The annual award acknowledges schools, businesses, community organizations, and civic leaders working on projects that promote environmental stewardship in Pennsylvania. Our team was recognized for the incorporation of LR100™ into our fuel mix, a biogenic fuel composed of waste vegetable oil collected from Philadelphia’s restaurants and food services businesses.

 


 

Community initiatives

Throughout 2022, our teams across regions have prioritized giving back to their local communities. Vicinity values these hands-on community engagement opportunities to increase our understanding of the communities we serve and to build long-lasting relationships with local organizations who share our passion for public service and supporting those in need.

Vicinity Energy staff participate in the Boston Kendall Square Challenge

Early this summer, team Vicinity competed in the Boston Kendall Square Challenge to raise money for five local nonprofits.

Life science and tech companies throughout the region spent an afternoon competing in physical, intellectual, and community-based missions across Kendall Square. This event underscored the interconnectedness of these forward-thinking companies and gave way for some healthy community-based competition.

Vicinity Energy donates backpacks to Baltimore public school.

Back in August, our South Region Green Solutions team donated over 100 backpacks to a local Baltimore public school to gear up students for the upcoming school year. Each backpack came equipped with a coloring page to kick start the year on a positive note.

Vicinity proudly serves as a partner in education with the Baltimore City Public Schools, and we look forward to more Baltimore-based community service in the new year!

Vicinity Energy team members assemble picnic tables

In September, our Philly team partnered up with Friends of Schuylkill River Park, a non-profit in Southwest Center City. The group’s mission is to preserve, beautify, improve, and maintain the family-favorite park in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Together, the volunteers built and stained five new picnic tables for public use at the park. Going into 2023, Vicinity looks forward to more projects on the horizon with this group.

Vicinity Energy helps Penn Vet Working Dog Center

This past November, we honored Veterans Day and the Military Community by joining forces with our Grays Ferry neighbors at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center.

The Penn Vet Working Dog Center has its roots in the search and rescue dogs that saved countless lives searching the rubble of 9/11 in New York City. The center trains search and detection dogs to work alongside the military and first responder communities, serving myriad roles. Dogs in the program are named in remembrance of individuals who lost their lives during 9/11 and the canine heroes who served following the attacks. Today, detection dogs are still recognized as the most effective tool for detecting and mitigating potential security threats.

Vicinity team members assisted the center by cleaning their indoor training mats and relocating a scent training wall. They also arranged pallets for a dog training exercise which involves tracking a scent through a rubble yard.

Vicinity Energy cleans out trash from Ellsworth Street

To kick off the start of autumn in Philadelphia, members of our green team in addition to the entire distribution department got together for some hands-on work cleaning the area.

Over the course of the day, the team successfully cleared out this massive pile of illegal dumping and gave Ellsworth Street a makeover!


Events and tours

This year, our teams welcomed professional groups, legislators, and community members for tours at our facilities across the country, where they got an inside look into how our green steam is created. Our team members also spoke at various events to discuss our clean energy future plan, renewable energy sources, and the steps we’re taking to green the communities we serve.

Vicinity Energy at 2022 Invest: Philadelphia Leadership Summit

Jackie Bliss, Chief Customer Officer at Vicinity spoke about Philadelphia’s energy sector and sourcing renewable power at the 2022 Invest: Philadelphia Leadership Summit with Capital Analytics.

Prominent industry leaders across Philadelphia convened at the Downtown Marriot for an in-depth review of the region’s economic potential as well as accompanying challenges. Bliss specified the importance of investing in renewable infrastructure, highlighting how “The challenges are still on education and letting people know that this equipment is an option to go green both fast and cost-effectively”.

Vicinity Energy at the Net Zero Massachusetts event.

Back in May, Vicinity CEO Bill DiCroce joined a panel Massachusetts’s leaders, legislators, and Office of Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker at State House News Service’s Net Zero Massachusetts event to discuss the outlook for critical renewable and clean energy sources.

Bill DiCroce outlined the path forward to electrify district energy systems and decarbonize building in city centers. This event was a valuable opportunity for Vicinity to hear from climate action leaders and contribute to the conversation regarding the outlook for renewable clean energy sources in Massachusetts.

Vicinity Energy with Maryland House of Delegates

In December, several members of the Maryland House of Delegates visited our Chilled Water Plant in Baltimore for a tour and presentation detailing our decarbonization plan for the city.

The decarbonization of our Baltimore system will help our customers and the state of Baltimore meet the greenhouse gas reduction goals set forth by the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022.

Vicinity Energy at Bisnow’s Philadelphia Healthcare and Life Sciences Conference

In October, Brian Mueller, Chief Development Officer at Vicinity, spoke on the “Embracing the Life Science Surge” panel at Bisnow’s Philadelphia Healthcare and Life Sciences Conference.

This event covered emerging trends in addition to the future of biotechnology in Philadelphia.

Vicinity Energy at the Kendall Facility tour.

In August, we welcomed guests from the City of Boston for a tour of our Kendall Facility.

Visitors explored the ins and outs of the facility and gained insight into Vicinity’s electrification plans for Boston and Cambridge from CEO Bill DiCroce, Matt O’Malley, Kevin Hagerty, and Don Silva, who led a captivating conversation surrounding Vicinity’s decarbonization objectives along with other innovative approaches to reaching Net Zero 2050.


Vicinity in the media 

In 2022, Vicinity was featured in several media publications. Check out some of the great news stories and interviews that were published this year:

Over the course of the year, our team members worked tirelessly towards supplying new and innovative energy technologies, with the overarching goal of driving carbon reductions within the communities we serve.

We could not be more grateful for this dedicated team that puts in the work to create a cleaner and greener environment for generations to come. 2023 is already off to a great start for the energy community and we cannot wait to see what the future holds.

District energy is charging Philly’s ever-growing life science market

Life sciences are currently booming in the United States. An outpouring of new products and technology coupled with capital inflows from public and private investors are transforming the industry, allowing new implementations to take shape. As talent within the field continues to rise, new treatments for diseases such as cancer, HIV, and cystic fibrosis are finally within reach. There has also been a growing emphasis on the standard of care patients receive, demonstrated through the quality and performance management requirements gaining particular attention in life science professions. With this surge in technology, funding, talent, and performance, the demand for lab space across significant markets is stronger than ever. 

A real estate shift is occurring

The COVID-19 pandemic ignited a shift in how traditional office spaces are used. Lockdowns proved that employees did not have to be in the office to complete projects and tasks, and productivity increased with remote tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams for collaboration. This new paradigm has diminished the need for office space in numerous industries.

Needle inserted into covid 19 vaccine vial

The opposite is true for careers in medicine and biotechnology: the pandemic verified the crucial need for health care workers and researchers to have hands-on lab space for their life-saving findings and operations. The outcome of these two factors was a real estate scramble.

Because of this transition, city landlords are desperately converting their vacant office spaces into laboratories, making way for the world of life sciences to thrive.

How is this affecting Philadelphia?

In 2017, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia boosted Philly’s status in the medical industry by developing an FDA-approved treatment for a rare form of retinal blindness. That same year, the University of Pennsylvania’s CAR T cell therapy was approved by the FDA to treat a specific type of cancer found in children and young adults. This treatment has now won its third FDA approval in 2022. 

Philadelphia has since maintained its glowing reputation as a hub for the life science market, as seen by the industry’s employment rate, which has grown by a staggering 116% since 2001. Medical and biotech organizations flock to Philadelphia not only for their growing pool of talent but also for their valuable real estate. Compared with other top life science markets such as Baltimore, San Francisco, and New York City, Philadelphia’s market displays significant cost advantages in building operations and maintenance. 

These cost advantages can be attributed to Philly’s thriving district energy network, a crucial motivator for labs, hospitals, and other research and development establishments to expand into this region.

Meeting rigid requirements for laboratories

Laboratory operations require a lot more energy than those of a typical office building. In the U.S., labs can use anywhere from 30 to 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 75,000 to 800,000 Btu of natural gas per square foot every year. In a standard laboratory, most power is sourced for cooling, lighting, and space heating, with lighting and space heating accounting for approximately 74% of total energy use.

The ceilings of laboratories must also be appropriate for ductwork and equipment. There must be sufficient airflow for the safety of technicians as well as viable interior wall and ceiling space to meet upgraded mechanical and utility conditions. More importantly, laboratories require a large volume of high-quality, reliable thermal energy to support their fundamental operations. Specific ventilation, space temperature, and humidity measures are necessary to sterilize laboratory tools and equipment.

Surgical tools being set on a sterilized table

An error in any of these requirements can result in millions of dollars lost in research and development. This could cause a significant financial burden for biotech and pharmaceutical organizations as well as catastrophic setbacks in the advancement of medical discoveries. 

Establishing lab space in Philly

As progressive climate action goals continue to develop throughout the U.S., low-carbon sustainable energy will soon become a non-negotiable requirement in cities like Philadelphia. Additionally, individual biotech companies typically have sustainability initiatives, making green energy increasingly vital to operations.

With the speed at which life science firms are growing and expanding, ground-up construction is not an option. Existing buildings must adapt to these requirements, which are becoming increasingly rigid, to meet rapidly approaching sustainability goals. District energy builds upon existing infrastructure, so buildings do not need to make expensive renovations to decarbonize their operations. This energy alternative has been proven to be both environmentally green and cost-effective.

Vicinity’s Philly district energy system

Vicinity Energy offers affordable green steam to Philadelphia’s renowned universities, medical research facilities, hospitals, and other commercial institutions. This steam system is one of the largest district energy systems in the U.S., covering over 100 million square feet of the city’s grounds.

Vicinity has already made multimillion-dollar investments to improve Philly’s critical energy infrastructure, enabling this district energy network to reduce carbon emissions by nearly 300,000 tons annually. 

District energy is considerably more affordable than other onsite alternatives, such as building in hefty electric boilers, which are expensive to install and maintain, take up excess space, and detract from valuable real estate. Vicinity’s interconnected steam facilities provide built-in redundancy, backup generation, and multiple water and fuel sources to ensure these crucial life science organizations can stay up and running 24/7.

The result

As Philly’s district energy system expands, hospitals and laboratories can devote more time, money, and physical space to their life-saving operations. District energy users also enjoy peace of mind knowing that their building supports renewable energy distribution as Vicinity strives towards a cleaner and greener future for Philadelphia.

How district energy is supporting the transition from empty offices to thriving laboratories

Office space may be cooling down, but lab space is heating up

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a seismic impact on professional office work environments. Before the pandemic, most workplaces were strictly in-office, but now, the majority have shifted to work from home or a hybrid formula. This transition seems to be sticking, which means many office buildings in urban centers are now standing empty.

One type of work that cannot shift to a ‘work from home’ or hybrid model is laboratory research. Lab technicians require specific equipment and ideal environments that are only available in a physical lab. While the demand for office space has plummeted, the need for lab space is higher than ever. As a result, building owners and developers are converting empty offices into labs at an accelerating rate.

Lab space conversions are increasingly popular in areas experiencing notable life science booms, like Boston, Cambridge, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and San Diego. From 2009 to the end of 2019, the amount of lab space in the U.S. grew from 17 million to 29 million square feet. Even smaller cities like New Haven are “desperate” for more lab space because of a huge influx of life science enterprises on the scene. Boston is expected to complete construction for 2 to 3 million sq. ft. of new lab space by 2024. Lab space vacancy in Boston is currently at a mere 4.5%, versus overall office space vacancy, which is as high as 23%. Rents for lab space in the Boston area price at over $100 per sq. ft., making conversions extremely profitable. Furthermore, lab leases are generally 10 to 15 years long, giving landlords assurance that the conversion investments are worth it.

Lab space has several unique requirements for building owners to consider

Labs require a whole host of structural and service considerations. Efficient, effective laboratories require appropriate ceiling heights for duct work and equipment, enhanced airflow for the safety of technicians, and viable interior wall and ceiling space for increased mechanical and utility requirements. Developers must also keep in mind that different building codes and zoning requirements may apply, as compared to general office space. 

Perhaps most importantly, labs require high-quality and high-volume reliable 24/7 energy to provide power, cooling, heating, humidification and sterilization to ensure uninterrupted research, sanitized laboratory equipment and tools, and preservation of delicate procedures.

Evaluating your energy options

District energy

District energy is a great option to meet the unique requirements of lab space. Life science companies need huge volumes of high-quality, reliable thermal energy to support their critical operations, including specific ventilation, space temperature, humidity requirements, and the sterilization of laboratory tools and equipment. District steam energy has many advantages:
Without the burden of onsite combustion or maintaining chillers or boilers, district energy is a safer option than onsite infrastructure and also requires way less maintenance expense.

  • For sterilization and humidification, the CDC recommends steam sanitation over conventional sanitation methods.
  • District energy is more resilient and reliable even in the face of climate events.
  • District energy allows upper limits of heating to be adjusted, necessary for the specific conditions labs require.
  • A building can connect just a few floors to district energy if they only want to convert some floors to lab space.
  • District energy is a greener option and in cities where life sciences are booming, these same cities often have aggressive carbon emissions savings targets.
  • This energy solution also frees up valuable floor space, which allows life science companies to focus and leverage valuable square feet for their core operations.

Microgrids and distributed generation

A microgrid is an energy grid that typically provides power and thermal energy to a campus or group of buildings in close proximity to each other. In some cases, it makes sense for a research campus to develop an onsite independent energy solution to meet their critical energy needs. Microgrids can even store energy and use renewables. An independent energy developer with finance, engineering and construction management expertise can develop a custom distributed energy solution, from planning to implementation.

Alternatively, microgrids can also be integrated into district systems to provide even more energy resilience and reliability. Labs have extremely high thermal energy and power needs, making a microgrid solution (which provides both) a feasible and practical solution. Vicinity has developed and operates microgrids for multiple clients – including for a global biotechnology company.

Onsite boilers/chillers

Pairing onsite boilers and chillers for thermal energy and engaging a traditional power utility for electricity is often the first option that occurs to many commercial companies and building owners. However, most underestimate the cost and maintenance that goes along with such a decision or the risks to reliability. Onsite chillers and boilers require substantial upfront capital and ongoing maintenance costs. They take up valuable space in the building that easily could be used for core operations instead. Buildings with boilers also run the risk of insufficient steam pressure and poor steam quality. Labs require constant airflow in order to maintain a sterile environment – they need approximately five times more air changes than typical office buildings, which is why they tend to put more strain on the HVAC equipment to heat and cool all the fresh air being brought in. More air changes and ventilation requirements puts enormous pressure on boilers, especially in the winter, as it decreases the life of boilers, increases fuel costs, and means more repairs and maintenance. Not only does district energy or high-pressure steam from a microgrid provide humidification control, hot water, and heat, but it also allows for the sterilization of equipment. More sustainable energy solutions, like district energy and microgrids, often cost less from a lifecycle perspective and are more valuable in the long run.

Looking ahead

As office spaces turn into labs, an important component that life science companies must keep in mind are the carbon goals of the cities they operate in. Many cities have aggressive carbon reduction goals which must be taken into account when planning new commercial and industrial spaces.

Furthermore, many life sciences companies have goals for greening their own operations, sometimes above and beyond city and/or state guidelines. To attract life science companies and stay current with environmental policies, buildings must not only provide a reliable and cost-effective energy solution, but also one that can adapt to changing, and increasingly more stringent, sustainability requirements. This is a tricky matter when it comes to onsite energy generation, as any equipment would likely have to be expensively retrofitted in the future to meet greening initiatives. District energy, on the other hand, can rapidly green its operations with updates to its central plants, with all customers connected to the district system subsequently receiving cleaner energy. Incorporating district energy into any laboratory or office to lab conversion plan ensures not only that new life science tenants will have the HVAC, environmental and space conditions and capacities they need, but also that the building will continue to get greener over time – keeping up with corporate and government sustainability objectives well into the future.

Renewable biogenic fuels are bridging the clean energy gap and supporting local communities

As our world continues to evolve, innovate and move away from conventional fossil-fuel energy sources, new green alternatives are transforming the energy landscape. While wind and solar energy gained early traction in the market, these renewable sources are intermittent and not always available.

However, due to innovative technological advancements and a shift in attitude regarding waste management, the use of biogenic fuels to produce energy has become more prevalent and cost-effective as a viable green energy solution. But what exactly are biogenic fuels and why are they on the rise? Biogenic fuels can be defined broadly as any fuel derived from by living organisms​, such as renewable plant and animal biomass.

The evolution of biogenic fuels

While a lot of effort and new technology is being devoted to biogenic fuel development, this energy source is not a new concept. The use of biogenic fuels has been around ever since human beings discovered fire and has since played a role throughout modern history. Did you know that some of the first automobiles models were developed to run entirely on peanut oil? While innovative, this use of organic matter to produce fuel use was quickly cast into the shadows by fossil-fuels, which boasted greater economic and performance benefits.

However, with experimentation, combined with innovation, this renewable energy source continues to evolve as biogenic fuel producers expand upon prior feedstocks, methods of processing this organic material and end-use applications. This constant development has led to a second-generation of biogenic fuels that differ in the overall sustainability of their feedstocks. And the source of that feedstock is important.

With our society’s rapidly increasing population and demand for power, critics argue that use of key biogenic fuel feedstocks for energy production, such as corn and soybean, would threaten food supplies. This delicate balance between energy needs and food demands is a real concern. However, some innovative biogenic fuel producers are getting more creative with how they’re sourcing their feedstock and transforming organic waste material into energy.

Innovative renewable biogenic fuel from organic waste

As a much cleaner-burning replacement for petroleum-based diesel fuel, one form of biogenic fuels in particular – LR100™– has even more potential to reduce waste, carbon impacts and competing food supply concerns. LR100™ is a one-of-a-kind, unique biogenic fuel derived from waste vegetable oil and fats discarded by the food service industry. While at first glance this biogenic fuel is often mistaken for biodiesel, LR100™ is in fact much different in terms of its carbon footprint, composition and how its developed. Because LR100™ is processed mechanically, it has a 10% lower carbon lifecycle than conventional biodiesel, which uses a chemical process. It also performs much better in boilers and heating systems.Once disposed as waste, used vegetable oil and fats discarded by the food service industry have become a viable feedstock for biogenic fuel producers. It’s estimated by the National Renderers Association that about 4.4 billion pounds of cooking oil is collected annually from restaurants and food service providers in the United States and Canada. Fortunately, a vast majority of this former waste stream is now being repurposed as a fuel source. By leveraging existing and recyclable feedstocks that don’t require additional animal or agricultural production, renewable biogenic fuels do not threaten food supplies. Renewable biogenic fuel also delivers other significant benefits, not only for food service establishments, but also for the environment and local communities.

How biogenic fuel from organic waste is helping the environment and local communities

As a cleaner burning fuel, biogenic fuels derived from used cooking oil and fats are providing cities with both a local, sustainable and circular energy solution that yields positive impacts across local communities and for our environment:

Renewable energy source

  • Derived from plant and animal products, biogenic fuel is a viable alternative to our dependence on fossil-fuels. Its organic properties make it non-toxic and biodegradable, further reducing the risk of spills and mishandling of the fuel.
  • Through renewable biogenic fuel use, we can extend the longevity of our earth’s finite fossil fuel resources, while we continue the transition to other renewable sources.

Environmental

  • Producing renewable energy with this organic food waste significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions and improves local air quality through reductions in nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and particulate emissions, compared to traditional heavy fuel oils.
  • If not disposed of properly, used oil can severely damage municipal water and sewage infrastructure. This oil can create blockages and system degradation and/or spoil local water resources.
  • If this used oil gets into local waterways, it can negatively impact local wildlife and aquatic habitats, leading to habitat destruction.
  • Transforming food waste into renewable fuel offers a closed loop recycling solution for communities and reduces the consumption of finite resources.

Economic

  • Restaurants are often compensated for their used cooking oil, dependent on market demand and quality. Once regarded as a waste byproduct, the food industry is now incentivized to recycle its used cooking oil, while also benefitting from an additional source of income and/or cost savings.
  • Biogenic fuels can often be seamlessly integrated into existing mechanical systems, eliminating the need to replace capital-intensive mechanical equipment that previously used petroleum fuel oil.

Domestic production & job creation

  • Increased use of renewable biogenic fuel can help to limit our energy dependence on foreign nations for finite fossil-fuel based resources.
  • Leveraging local and organic feedstocks to produce renewable biogenic fuel, generates synergistic opportunities for local food industry businesses and the communities in which these businesses operate, including jobs and environmental benefits.
  • According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, “A robust bioeconomy will create domestic high-paying jobs while reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil and revitalizing rural America,” and create cascading benefits for the transportation, manufacturing, and agricultural sectors.

Although biogenic fuels have existed for thousands of years, the technological advances and environmental demands of today are leading to a resurgence of this type of renewable fuel. While the world’s competing energy needs and sustainability challenges will not be solved with a single renewable fuel source, biogenic fuels are helping to bridge the gap. This circular solution is helping communities adopt better waste management approaches, source renewable energy solutions from their own former waste streams and forge the path forward towards our society’s continued transition to a more sustainable tomorrow.

The many benefits of CHP for a low-carbon future

When people think about green energy, they often think of renewables like solar or wind power. While harnessing the earth’s natural elements to generate energy is an excellent strategy, these sources are intermittent and not always available. Also, space constraints in urban cores often make these technologies challenging to implement. Integration of wind and solar will certainly be a component of a greener future, but there are many other ways we can reduce emissions, save on fuel, and keep energy affordable by tackling the huge amount of energy wasted under current production conditions.

The United States squanders an incredible amount of energy through wasted heat. This heat, which is a byproduct of traditional energy generation processes, is vented to the atmosphere or released into bodies of water. Traditional generation and the electric grid itself are responsible for the majority of the thermal energy wasted. In fact, the United States loses more energy in wasted heat each year than is consumed by the entire nation of Japan.

One of the best ways to combat this issue is with CHP. By capturing heat that would have otherwise been wasted, CHP systems result in the most efficient use of fuel to produce clean, low carbon steam over traditional generation sources. Let’s take a look at what CHP is, how it works, and how it can help turn waste heat into usable energy to help reduce carbon emissions.

Understanding the CHP process

CHP stands for combined heat and power and is also referred to as cogeneration. CHP is an efficient process that combines the production of thermal energy (used for both heating and cooling) and electricity into one process. Unlike a traditional power plant that discards excess heat produced from its power generation process as carbon emissions, CHP harnesses this waste heat and puts this energy to good use. There are two common CHP processes that are used most often:

  • In the first, fuel is combusted in a prime mover, like a gas turbine or engine. Then, a generator connected to the prime mover produces electricity. The energy normally lost in this process as heat exhaust is recaptured in a heat recovery boiler to generate thermal energy.
  • In the second, a boiler burns fuel and produces high pressure steam, which feeds a steam turbine and thereby creates electricity. Upon exiting the turbine at a lower pressure, the steam is captured and used for thermal energy.

Benefits of CHP

There are many considerable advantages to CHP, both to individual buildings, campuses and society at large. CHP systems have an average efficiency of about 75%, but can exceed 80% efficiency when using steam turbines. This is versus the 50% efficiency yielded by traditional systems via separate boilers and generators. Greater efficiency means better fuel utilization. Better fuel utilization both reduces emissions and reduces costs.

Additionally, unlike many new technologies, CHP systems can be deployed quickly, and have few geographic limitations, making it easier for buildings within a district or campus to take advantage of the benefits of CHP and quickly lower their environmental impact. At the same time, CHP offers more resilient energy, especially when configured as part of an advanced microgrid. This was clearly evidenced in 2012 when Super Storm Sandy plunged New York City into darkness with its destruction of the local electric grid. But one campus stayed lit and heated – New York University’s Washington Square campus, which is powered by a 13.4-megawatt CHP plant.

Furthermore, CHP supports local economic growth by cutting energy costs and freeing up funds for other investments. According to the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, Installing 40 GW of new CHP capacity would save U.S. businesses and industries $10 billion each year in energy costs and shave one percent off of the overall national energy demand. Such an investment would cost about $40 to $80 billion and could pay for itself within four to eight years, these agencies estimate.

A low-carbon future

So, CHP is more efficient, more affordable, and spurs economic growth. What about the environment? For starters, CHP often uses domestic natural gas, which is cleaner than coal and superior to oil from an energy independence perspective. What’s more, opportunity fuels like biofuels and wood waste are also options for CHP systems, offering an even greener approach to CHP. CHP overall, and its ability to integrate green fuels, provides cities with a tremendous opportunity to reduce carbon emissions on a massive scale. By pairing CHP with district energy networks, low carbon thermal energy can be delivered to a broad swath of buildings and generate significant carbon reduction benefits.

CHP’s emissions are inherently lower than alternative technologies, and can meet even the most stringent U.S. emissions regulations. This is partly due to its aforementioned greater fuel efficiency, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide (CO2) and air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), according to the EPA.

How much of an impact can CHP have on emissions? Let’s put it in perspective. The Department of Energy estimates that the U.S.’s current CHP deployment saves about 1.8 quads of energy annually, and reduces U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 240 million metric tons. That’s the equivalent of taking 40 million cars off of the road. The DOE goes on to suggest that deploying an additional 40 GW of CHP could decrease CO2 emissions by an additional 150 million tons each year, which is like removing 25 million more cars from the road. In other words, CHP can have a massive positive impact on our environment and pay for itself.

CHP in action

With so many benefits and comparatively little cost to implement, it’s not surprising that in their recent Market Data: Combined Heat and Power in Microgrids report, Guidehouse Insights reported that they expect 11.3 GW of new CHP capacity to be added in microgrids globally over the next ten years.

Unfortunately, most of that implementation continues to be outside of the U.S. As with many progressive energy moves, Scandinavia leads the way. CHP accounts for 50% of Denmark’s power production and more than 30% in Finland and the Netherlands.

However, CHP only represents about 8% of the U.S.’s total generation capacity. That means that there’s enormous potential for growth. Some major U.S. cities are already reaping the benefits of CHP, including Boston, Cambridge and Philadelphia. In these communities, CHP is integrated with local district energy networks, delivering low carbon thermal energy to buildings and campuses across these cities’ urban core. In fact, CHP driven district energy has been so successful at reducing carbon emissions, its specifically tied to these cities’ climate action plans. By leveraging existing district energy infrastructure and CHP, these cities are leading the way in America’s adoption of this powerful technology and forging ahead towards a zero-carbon future.