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Water Today Title June 29, 2022

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Update 2017/8/16
Greening government - ESAP


This story is brought to you in part by Biomass Recycle

The Parliament Buildings and almost 80 other buildings in Ottawa are on a district energy system that connects to central plants using over 14 kilometres of underground piping to provide heating by steam and cooling by chilled water.

The current system was built between 50 and 100 years ago. It uses outdated technologies and many of its components are at the end of their service life. The Energy Services Acquisition Program (ESAP) will modernize these plants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save money and improve safety.

By modernizing this system we have an opportunity to contribute to climate change commitments by transitioning to a low-carbon economy and stimulating the clean technology sector. The modernization will also save on costs. With the current system, it would cost almost $4 billion to heat and cool the buildings on the network over the next 40 years. Modernization will save over $750 million over the same time period.

Tomasz Smetny-Sowa, Senior Program Director, Energy Services Acquisition Program, Public Works and Government Services, further clarifies the context and history of the of the National Capital Region district energy systems, in an article published in IDEA in April 2017. During World War l, a fire in Ottawa, Ont., destroyed the Centre Block of Parliament Hill, which is home to Canada's House of Commons. During reconstruction, the project team started building a district energy system that would become part of one of the largest systems in Canada. Today six plants and four distribution networks deliver district heating and cooling to more than 80 buildings in the National Capital Region, which encompasses Ottawa and Gatineau, Que.

After years of expanding to encompass multiple plants and distribution networks, these district energy systems were falling behind in terms of overall condition and performance. In 2009, after several internal studies, the government of Canada launched its Energy Services Acquisition Program an ambitious initiative to find a "made-for-Canada" solution to better meet the federal government's own heating, cooling and electricity needs in a sustainable, environmentally and fiscally responsive manner. The program has aimed to learn from the business models and successes of the private sector and use them as a guide to modernizing the National Capital Region's plants and connecting infrastructure.

On August 8, WaterToday spoke with Smetny-Sowa about this ambitious and complex undertaking. A transcription of this conversation can be found below.


WaterToday - First, I would like to go over the ESAP program in general and then we can take it from there.

Smetny-Sowa - So ESAP started in 2009. We have six central heating and cooling plants in Ottawa, Gatineau region. And we're feeding about 80 buildings. Mainly federal buildings, with three buildings being private. We're providing heating and cooling; but the technology is fairly outdated and very inefficient.

We're heating with steam. Most of the system consists of high temperature hot water; and we're cooling with steam-driven chillers. Steam is very impractical and difficult to control. And that's a lot of losses. If you imagine that we want to heat the building to about 22 C and steam is being converted at about 500 C and being generated 1500 C, there is an inherited loss of energy throughout the entire process.

So, in 2009 government decided that a holistic approach had to be adopted because we were patching the old system all the time and it was very, very costly. Our first step was to investigate the new district energy systems throughout the world, where everybody's moving from steam and high-temperature water to low-temperature water or even ultra-low temperature water in case of Europe.

We decided to switch the system to low-temperature water; and switch the generation of the cooling from steam-driven chillers to electric chillers. So, we slowly started doing that. However, going project by project in our procurement system is very difficult because it's very difficult to get funds. A decision was therefore made to renovate the entire infrastructure. And considering the value for money, we decided that the P3 approach for generation and distribution was the right way to go.

However, when we change the distribution from steam to water we have to change all the buildings to be able to accept the low-temperature water. And because the premium for the P3 partner would be way too high for the 80-building project, we decided to do it ourselves. So Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) right now is doing the building conversion. We've already started with three-pilot buildings being converted as we speak to learn more about it; and then we will unroll the whole program. And we'll try to convert all the buildings in time for the P3 partner to convert the plant.

There are several aspects to ESAP, the primary ones being to convert the infrastructure generation and distribution. The secondary one, which is a follow-up, is to convert all the buildings to low-temperature water. But in addition to conversion we want to introduce the smart- building technology in all the buildings. And there are two reasons for that. First, smart technology saves energy, which is part of ESAP's goal; second, it will allow us to verify and control how the private partner operates the system. Because there will be direct links to us in a live time, we will be able to monitor whether they're doing what they said would do in the contract, and if they're doing it according to our requirements. So that's a second small portion of ESAP.

The third one was proposed by Treasury Board. When we came up to Treasury Board with our business case it was based on the fuel being natural gas. We're already saving a lot of GHG by converting the technology. But we were asked, "Can you do something better than that?" And we said, "Yes. We can replace some of the base load from natural gas to non-GHG emitting fuels."

And that's when we were told, "Okay do the study. Go ahead and try to find out if you can find economical, non-GHG fuel." This led to a pilot project to test the non-GHG emitting fuels. If the pilot is successful the next step of ESAP will be to replace the base load of natural gas with biomass fuel.

This story is brought to you in part by Waterloo Biofilter Systems

WaterToday - Just to give our viewers a little bit of historical context, some of the articles I have read claim that the system was installed in 1915. But my understanding is the systems that you're doing now are not those old systems. You're doing a somewhat newer system that you're converting. But it's not that 1915 technology.

Smetny-Sowa - Well, yes partially. What you're referring to is the Cliff Street Central Heating Plant distribution system that was built in 1916. That was after the Central block fire. All the heating system was removed from Central Block. Because before it was just fireplaces and that's what started the fire.

So, the architect at the time decided to move the heating system outside of Parliament Hill and build the Cliff Street Central heating and cooling plant, but some of the tunnels are still there; some of the pipes are still there. Some of the components especially in the building in Central Block are still there.

Additional plants were built in 1950, in 1960, with the latest one in 2009. There will be no more steam no more hot-temperature water. If the pipes are still good enough - some pipes are good for 100 years - they will be retained. If they're not they will be replaced.

WaterToday - Is that the system that you're doing right now? Or is that coming down the road?

Smetny-Sowa - No, under the ESAP program, all the systems will be replaced.

WaterToday - Now that we've clarified some of the historical background for this. Can you could tell me a little bit about how the tests are breaking out? You're doing some with NRCan and you're doing some with NRC, but the funding for this project is coming from a combination of Treasury Board and Public Works. Is that correct?

Smetny-Sowa - Let me put it this way. The MOU with NRCan./NRC is just for two little tiny projects. For the ESAP main project, we received all the funds from Treasury Board through PSPC. The funding for this project is composed of two elements. One which is called reference level funding is the amount of money that government is assigning every year for the heating and cooling of the building. There's a very small portion like $4 to 5 million a year for capital replacement. Which is tiny, it doesn't really help us. And the second portion is $1.2 billion that was given by the Treasury Board for our submission to recapitalize the infrastructure and expand.

WaterToday -OK, I am clear on that, lets then move on to I guess the simple stuff. Our viewers are very interested in these tests that you're up to. and the first thing that I'm told when I talk to the biomass people we work with is that woodchips are just about the worst thing from their point-of-view in terms of biomass. Everything is pellets these days. Can you speak to something as small as that for a project as big as you're doing?

Smetny-Sowa - Yes. But first, when we look at the biomass you must know that biomass is very controversial right?

WaterToday - I do.

Smetny-Sowa - The moment you start burning forest for fuel it doesn't make any sense. Okay. We tell people in Africa not to heat their food because they create GHG and then we use biomass to heat our buildings which is very, very controversial. So we want to make sure the biomass we use is already residual garbage. You know from the production of furniture or the production of lumber for construction and stuff like that. So we have to track it very, very well to the source.

Now as you know there are 4 different biomass products on the market. What we call hog fuel which is the lowest level and consists of large-scale chips that have not been processed too much. And that's really what comes from the mills and deforestation. And the second level is what you call the white pellets which are basically slightly processed pulverize biomass put together under pressure. The next level up is torrified pellets which are the same pellets treated with high pressure steam to create a little seal on the top of the pellet. Because the problem with the white pellets is that they cannot be stored for a long time. Any water get into it becomes a mush and it's not usable.

With the torrified pellets you've got this cocoon on the outside. It repels the water. And they can be stored for a couple of years outside without a problem. They also don't develop dust which is a kind of a problem with the white pellet because it's very explosive. So you have to treat it almost like a cold powder. And the last level, the highest level of the biomass is RFO - renewable fuel oil which is a bio-oil made by evaporating sawdust; removing the impurities and condensing pure biomass. It's the most expensive fuel. But it's the fuel that creates the least problem in consumption. It's almost like a natural gas.

WaterToday - So if I could just add a follow-up to that, basically the bio-fuel model that you're talking about then is essentially distilled sawdust?

Smetny-Sowa - Correct. So we wanted to test the two biomass extremities, from the bottom level to the top level and see which one of them makes sense. We don't have enough money or resources to test all of them so we picked up the low and the top. And just for your information there's a huge difference in price between those. For natural gas delivered to the burner we pay in the neighbourhood of $6 a gigajoule; with biomass, the hog fuel will cost you about $12 a gigajoule and RFO will cost you $75 a gigajoule.

WaterToday - Whoa!

Smetny-Sowa - And it's a huge jump in price.

WaterToday - Ok can we move on to the benefits of all this. A lot of numbers are being thrown around. Things like saving $750 million over 4 years, or 40 percent emission reduction. Can you tell me a little bit about how this was all calculated?

Smetny-Sowa - Absolutely but don't forget this has nothing to do with these two pilot project and biomass.

WaterToday - Right.

Smetny-Sowa - So, with regards to the conversion from steam to low-temperature hot water, conservative estimates indicate that we took about 37 percent off input energy use. There are examples around the world that are over 50 percent. We took 37 percent.

WaterToday - Okay. I understand that.

Smetny-Sowa - I don't know if you know steam is extremely inefficient. If you look at any stream installation and distribution going you can see there's no snow in these places. Any place where you install steam lines, the heat flow is so terrible because the temperature is so high. Not to mention steam traps and stuff like that. All this energy is lost. So 37 percent of energy can be saved just for the conversion. We could go into the kilotons and stuff like that but I think it's easier to talk in percentages of the plant operation.

WaterToday - Okay. I agree.

Smetny-Sowa - So where 37 percent is derived from conversion, an additional 21 percent will come from switching from steam-driven chillers to electric chillers. And on top of that, installation on the smart-buildings will give us an additional 12 percent.

WaterToday - Now, let's go down the smart-building road for a bit. When you talk about smart grid are you including the external power requirements for these buildings, electric vehicle charging, solar-assist?

Smetny-Sowa - Let me stop you right there. We're not talking smart grid, this is the next step we will be talking about. What we're talking about here is strictly limited to the building and the existing infrastructure in the building. Most of the buildings have a building authorization system which automatically controls the building operation. This system has billions and billions of data and information. And it's impossible for humans to monitor it because it's just way too much. So, what we're doing is putting a little transmitter that's hooked up to the existing DAS (Data acquisition system), getting the data, running it through the computer and flying a normalizing operation.

Let me give you a very simple example. I presume that the room that you're sitting in has a heating and cooling system and just for the sake of argument, right now it probably needs a bit of cooling but your heating valve gets stuck half open. For you there would be no more heat because the cooling would be compensating in order to maintain the room at 22. But heating and cooling are being provided at the same time. The information is already in DAS. If you go for the DAS and track down the position of the valve you will know that. But normally, it's humanly impossible for the building operator to find it. So the computer will go through it and will say, "Okay, well we got two valves open, this shouldn't be the case."

WaterToday - Okay. I understand that.

Smetny-Sowa - We have six buildings operating and we average savings of over 16 percent per building. We're over a million dollars savings in operation on this building. And that's documented saving.

WaterToday - Now,I'd just like to get one more question in so I can take the article out, so to speak. Are you looking at using artificial intelligence across the grid?

Smetny-Sowa - No. We're limited to the buildings and to the central heating plant, ensuring that they will be talking together. But that's it. We're not going beyond that scope. So the next step will be to incorporate all the other smart technologies within the buildings.

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