Low carbon in the National Capital Region’s buildings

From: Public Services and Procurement Canada

Learn how the Energy Services Acquisition Program will modernize the system that heats and cools over 80 federal and non-federal buildings in the National Capital Region and how it will help the government to meet its goal of reducing the greenhouse gas emissions in its own operations by 40% by 2030.

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Heating and cooling buildings in the National Capital Region

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 It uses outdated technologies and many of its components are at the end of their service life. In the same way that you might replace an old furnace in your home with a more energy efficient model, we are modernizing the system to both cut greenhouse gas emissions and save money.

Infographic: How district energy works

Energy Services Acquisition Program: How district energy works - image description below
Image description

The infographic title is Energy Services Acquisition Program: How district energy works. It depicts a cityscape, with a cluster of high-rise buildings including the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings. On the far left is an industrial-type building with steam coming out of chimneys, representing a central heating and cooling plant.

In front of the buildings is a road with several vehicles. Below the road are lines underground showing how the heating and cooling plant is connected to the buildings through red and blue lines, with arrows pointing up. The lines represent pipes that circulate hot water, steam and chilled water.

Three blocks of text are shown above the buildings:

  • A district energy system is a set of central plants that heats buildings with hot water or steam and cools buildings with chilled water. They are used all over the world
  • This uses less energy and is more efficient than having equipment in each individual building
  • The government district energy system in Ottawa serves more than 80 buildings, including the Parliament Buildings. It is being modernized to cut greenhouse gas emissions and costs

One block of text is shown below ground on the lines representing pipes:

  • The water circulates through underground pipes connected in a loop

At the bottom of the page there is a quote from the United Nations Environmental Programme report, District Energy in Cities: Unlocking the Potential of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy:

  • “… modern district energy systems in cities is one of the least-cost and most-efficient solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and primary energy demand”

Benefits for Canadians

The Energy Services Acquisition Program 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
  • 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. 

Green heating and cooling plants

The Energy Services Acquisition Program will modernize the 80 plus buildings and the network in two stages.

Stage 1: Implementing newer technologies from 2017 to 2025

The first stage of the program will:

  • convert the system from steam to low temperature hot water
  • switch from steam to electric chillers
  • use Smart Building technology to pinpoint opportunities for better energy efficiency

These actions will reduce emissions by an estimated 63% or 73 kilotonnes per year. This is the equivalent of taking 14,000 cars off the road.

In the first stage we will also be testing a number of carbon neutral fuels like biomass and bio-oil to replace natural gas and other fossil fuels.

Stage 2: Using alternative fuels for the future starting in 2025

The conversion to low temperature hot water will create a bridge to carbon neutral energy and opportunities for even greater environmental benefits.

At this stage, natural gas will be replaced with carbon neutral fuel sources such as:

  • biomass
  • solar
  • industrial waste recapture
  • green gas from natural sources
  • waste to energy
  • bio-oil

We estimate that this will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an additional 29% or 34 kilotonnes a year. This is the equivalent of taking an additional 7,000 cars off the road.

We will also expand the network to more buildings. The 80 plus buildings currently on the network could potentially be increased to 600, which would triple the overall greenhouse gas reduction. 

Frequently asked questions

Find the answers to frequently asked questions about the Energy Services Acquisition Program.

What is a district energy system?

A district energy system is made up of central plants that heat buildings with hot water or steam and cool buildings with chilled water. The water circulates through underground pipes connected in a loop. This process uses less energy and is more efficient than having equipment in each individual building.

District energy systems are used around the world. According to the United Nations’ Energy Programme modern district energy systems in cities “is one of the least-cost and most-efficient solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and primary energy demand” (District Energy in Cities: Unlocking the Potential of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy).

How does the program fit with other government efforts to meet its targets for greenhouse gas reductions?

In the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change we commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions across all parts of the economy and all parts of the country to protect the environment while driving innovation and increasing the adoption of technology.

The Federal Sustainable Development Strategy commits the Government of Canada to becoming a leader on climate change.

The Greening Government initiative, led by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, aims to reduce emissions from our buildings and fleets by 40% below 2005 levels by 2030 at the latest. The conversion to low temperature hot water, the switch to electric chillers and the implementation of the Smart Buildings initiative together will deliver 5.5% of this commitment. Advanced greening would cut greenhouse gases by a further 2.6% and these measures together would account for 20% of this goal. Public Services and Procurement Canada has committed to purchasing 100% of its electricity from clean energy sources by 2030. The Energy Services Acquisition Program will contribute to this by testing new carbon neutral energy sources and working to double the number of government buildings on the network.

How much money will this save?

The district energy system was built between 50 and 100 years ago and much of the infrastructure is beyond its useful life. Without the modernization, it would cost almost $4 billion just to heat and cool the buildings on the network over the next 40 years. The modernization will save over $750 million over what it would have cost to run the old, inefficient system.

Budget 2016 committed almost $1.2 billion in new funding to the Energy Services Acquisition Program to convert to the newer, more efficient technologies, explore using renewable sources of energy and expand the network to more buildings.

When will the new system be up and running?

This is a long term project that will put the structure and process in place for managing the system for 30 years. The new technologies will be implemented between now and 2025. Public-private partnership (P3) contracts are expected to be awarded in 2019, with conversions completed by 2025. The operations and maintenance contract will be for 30 years, from 2025 to 2055.

Why not shift to carbon neutral energy sources now?

It’s the conversion to using low temperature hot water that opens up possibilities for using carbon-neutral renewable energy sources.

In the first stage of the program, between now and 2025, we will be converting the buildings and testing new fuel sources.

Why not make buildings more energy efficient instead of spending on a new heating and cooling system?

We’re doing both. Find information on energy consumption in commercial and institutional buildings in Canada.

Why is this being done through a public-private partnership contract?

The program will be delivered as a public-private partnership (P3) through long term contracts that will leverage the strengths and resources of industry. A public-private partnership (P3) contract offers the highest value for money and least risk to taxpayers.

Commercial opportunities

A public-private partnership (P3) will be used to manage the modernization through long term contracts that will leverage the strengths and resources of industry. There will be commercial opportunities at various stages available on buyandsell.gc.ca.

A letter of interest (EP-635-173247/A) was released in March 2017 to inform industry of upcoming contracting opportunities. It will be followed by request for qualifications (RFQ), expected in spring 2017, and a request for proposals (RFP) in winter 2017.

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