The following post was provided by Vicinity Energy.

Today, buildings generate a substantial amount of the world’s annual carbon emissions – 40%, to be exact. And while historically it has been difficult and costly for existing buildings to comply with decarbonization efforts, district energy systems are rising to the challenge.

Agile, fuel-agnostic district energy systems can easily switch to lower-carbon, local energy sources at their central facilities. Because these systems deliver thermal energy to multiple buildings and millions of square feet at a time, any swap to lower-carbon fuel sources has a much wider-reaching green impact and costs existing building owners significantly less than building-by-building retrofits. Making changes or upgrades to onsite boilers or chiller plants at each building is a much more time-consuming and expensive endeavor.

In this way, the electrification of district energy systems could be a game changer for the climate, our communities, and our collective future.

Electrifying Boston, Cambridge, and Beyond

In the first initiative of its kind in the United States, Vicinity Energy already has plans to electrify its district energy facilities in Boston and Cambridge. Modeled after best practices in other leading European and Canadian cities, this approach includes the installation of electric boilers, industrial-scale heat pumps, and thermal battery storage at its central facilities.

They will provide a cleaner energy product by purchasing electricity from renewable, carbon-neutral energy sources like wind, solar, and hydro. Over time, they’ll apply this approach to the rest of their districts, with Philadelphia closely following Boston and Cambridge.

Vicinity’s investments at its central facilities will lower carbon emissions and provide cleaner energy for customers throughout Boston and Cambridge, eliminating 400,000 tons of carbon annually by 2035 – more than the Empire State Building weighs in tons.

In a recent interview, Vicinity’s Chief Sustainability Officer Matt O’Malley stated, “We only have one choice—we need to be bold on climate. Vicinity is doing it.”

Electrification Success Overseas

The electrification of district energy systems has proven successful in various European and Canadian cities. A decade ago, a similar transition took place in the heating networks of Drammen, Norway, with notable success. In 2011, Star Renewable Energy installed the world’s largest 90°C natural heat pump in conjunction with the district energy system in Drammen. The heat pump extracts heat from the cold water in an adjacent fjord to heat homes and businesses across the city.

Since January 2011, the project has delivered over 15MW of heat for the Drammen community of 60,000 people. The city has realized an annual savings of around $2.25 million and 1.5 million tons of carbon — the equivalent of taking more than 300,000 cars off the road each year.

Driving Change with Strategic Private-Public Partnerships

Strong policy, regulations, and collaboration among organizations, as evidenced by the Helsinki Energy Challenge in Finland, encourage and spur innovative and sustainable solutions to decarbonize our cities. The success of district energy electrification in Drammen demonstrates the power of public-private partnerships to achieve overall decarbonization objectives.

European and Canadian cities such as Vancouver, Helsinki, Drammen, and many more serve as a testament to the success of leveraging district energy to meet aggressive emissions targets through electrification.

About Vicinity Energy

Vicinity Energy is a clean energy company that owns and operates the nation’s most extensive portfolio of district energy systems. Vicinity produces and distributes reliable, clean steam, hot water, and chilled water to over 230 million square feet of building space nationwide. Vicinity is committed to achieving net zero carbon across its portfolio by 2050. Vicinity continuously invests in its infrastructure and the latest technologies to accelerate the transition and rapidly decarbonize commercial and institutional buildings in city centers. Learn more about Vicinity’s Clean Energy Future commitment.

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