Transforming urban energy systems post-COVID 19

April 29, 2020


Chessboard and plaent

Many have noted the opportunity to link the COVID-19 economic recovery with robust climate action.  We have an unanticipated opportunity to accelerate the transition to low carbon urban energy infrastructure like district energy systems.

Modern district energy systems supply hot and chilled water to buildings through underground pipes for space heating, domestic hot water, air conditioning and industrial process energy. By serving the heating and cooling needs of many buildings, these systems deliver considerable economic, environmental and reliability benefits to local economies.

The United Nations Environment Program has identified district energy systems as “vital infrastructure for more sustainable cities and communities”. They recognize those countries, cities and communities for strategic investments in district energy as “a most effective means to de-carbonize urban energy infrastructure.” When complemented with combined heat and power, producing electricity as well as heat, these systems improve energy performance and reduce emissions in a community, and much more.

As of 2016, almost 3000 building in Canada were served by district energy systems. Let us put that statistic – and the opportunity – into perspective.  Canada has only 350 km of district energy networks for about 33 million people. Mannheim in Germany has over 500 km for about 300,000.  Those 3000 Canadian buildings would fit into a few blocks of Mannheim.

How might we use the COVID-19 economic recovery to shift gears from a largely North American-centric and incremental approach to one that will transform our urban energy systems? Community energy plans across the country have identified opportunities for district energy systems. QUEST has been further laying the groundwork for action through the convening of a national District Energy NetworkWe have a unique and timely opportunity to accelerate their implementation.