Surrey’s District Energy Manager Jason Owen at the construction site of what will be Surrey’s first district energy centre. (

VIDEO: An exclusive look at Surrey’s expanding district energy system

City of Surrey-owned utility is growing as the City Centre core builds out

While highrises and other new developments pop up all over the City Centre area, the changes to the landscape are impossible to miss.

But many may not be aware what’s going on underneath the ground: The city’s expanding district energy system.

The city-owned Surrey City Energy system delivers heat to multiple buildings via hot water pipes that are buried underground.

It’s a sustainable solution, explained Jason Owen, District Energy Manager for the City of Surrey.

“We’re doing this because about one-third of all our community greenhouse gas emissions come from heating buildings and district energy will give us a platform to fuel switch away from fossil fuels and use low carbon, renewable fuel sources in the future.”

It all started when Surrey’s city hall made the move from south Newton to City Centre.

When the new civic site was built along 104th Avenue, so were 400 “geothermal vertical boreholes,” said Owen.

“They go down about 200 feet below the building,” he said. “We have a huge footprint here. The (city hall) building, and the whole plaza and the parkade. So before we started building up, we put these boreholes in place and what they do is they send water down 200 feet and they pull heat out of the ground.

“That’s used to provide heat for this building,” he said, standing in the heat pump plant underneath city hall.

“This system in here, this is kind of the guts of the whole building and the system that provides the heating and cooling.”

Councillor Mike Starchuk stands in the heat pump plant underneath city hall. (Photo:
Amy Reid)

Pumps remove heat from water and inject it into the system, he explained.

“When the building spaces need to be cooled, these heat pumps will actually inject heat back into the ground. So the ground heat exchanger acts like a big heat battery.”

The City of Surrey intentionally overbuilt the boreholes, he explained, anticipating future demand.

“I think this building needed about 260 of these vertical boreholes, but we put in 400 because we had space and it was really cost effective to do it at the time,” Owen said. “We also knew we were going to be building out a heating network that could take the extra heat. So now, we’ve tied in this broader network we have with this building, so that whenever this building has additional capacity that’s not being used, we can use it on the network more broadly, and that’s kind of our first low-carbon heating source for the utility.”

It’s not just city hall that’s connected to the heating system, but several new nearby towers.

“The new Concord towers that were just built. And this one was our first customer on the network,” he said, referring to Wave tower, at 13303 103A Ave. “Then the Bosa tower where the church was (across University Drive from city hall), that one’s also a customer.”

As the city core continues to build out, many more will be hooked up to the system. Eventually, the utility will offer heat and hot water to both residential and commercial buildings throughout the downtown area.

In order to keep growing the network, given new demand as the area continues to densify, the city needed to build its first permanent facility, the West Village Energy Centre and Park. That site, just two blocks from city hall, is currently under construction.

A temporary energy plant is set up in a shipping container on the property, at 10357 133rd St., and a massive hole in the ground is the beginning of the permanent operation.

See also: VIDEO: Surrey breaks ground at West Village Energy Centre and Park

A rendering of the completed West Village District Energy Centre and Park. (Photo: City of Surrey)

Owen explained there is another temporary energy plant at Fraser Highway and Whalley Boulevard until a permanent one can be built there, also.

“The pipe work is costly and takes time to build out,” he explained. “So this one, we may move up to the Gateway area (near 108th Avenue) to meet new demands up there as new developments really start to take off there. It’ll take some time to extend the pipe network all the way up there.

Standing inside the massive groundhole with construction machinery buzzing around, Owen pointed to two small holes at ground level.

That’s where hot water pipes will enter the completed building, he explained.

“We send a hot water pipe out into the neighbourhood to heat the buildings, then the water one back to the facility a little bit colder to be reheated.”

Owen said the piece of property will not only house the energy centre, but also a neighbourhood park.

“There will be floor-to-ceiling windows that will allow people in the park to look down into the energy centre and see all of the different pieces of equipment in operation,” said Owen. “So we hope that will provide a really engaging space for park users to learn about district energy and what we’re doing.”

It’s not a new concept.

District energy systems are used by some large cities, hospitals and university campuses to reduce energy costs, improve reliability and have better control over the type of fuel used.

“There are a lot of older systems,” said Owen. “But this more modern version of district energy is a bit newer and municipalities in B.C. are using this as a platform to reduce GHG emissions. It’s less common outside of B.C., and B.C. has been seen as a real leader in this area.”

And while the city’s efforts are to reduce emissions, Owen said it is also trying to keep the fuel cost-effective for residents.

“By using local resources and controlling the energy inputs at a neighbourhood scale, we can stabilize costs over the long term,” he noted. “If you look at natural gas prices over the last 20 years, it goes all over the place, whereas our rates are projected to stay around the cost of inflation for a 30-year period.”

STORY CONTINUES BELOW

Councillor Mike Starchuk also joined the tour of the construction site.

“It’s not like the city is going to make a lot of extra money and get rich on this,” Starchuk commented. “This is a philosophy. This is an overarching thing to do with GHG emissions. If Delta does this with some of their city cores, New Westminster, Langley and everybody else, it’s all of those incremental chunks. That’s how you stop the whole Earth from warming up.”

Starchuk described the technology as “dynamic.”

He said the city’s soon-to-open biofuel facility in Port Kells will turn waste into fuel. Fuel that could be used in this energy centre.

“The fact that it has the ability it has to create some excess gas and that has part of the fuel for a district energy system like this, it just shows you that our world is changing,” he said.

“The stuff that we don’t eat, or the stuff that comes off our front lawns or a vegetable garden, that becomes part of the gas we’re going to capture instead of throwing it out to compost or going into a landfill. It has the ability to resurface itself in something like this. I know most people weren’t thinking like that 20 years ago.

See also: Surrey breaks ground on biofuel processing facility (Feb. 27, 2015)

The city says the organic biofuel facility will be the first fully integrated, closed-loop waste management system in North America, which will be able to process 115,000 metric tonnes of organic waste per year. It’s hoped the site will help Metro Vancouver achieve its regional 70 per cent waste diversion target.

Once operational, the $68 million facility is estimated to reduce CO2 emissions in Surrey by 40,000 tonnes a year – the equivalent of taking 8,500 cars off the road per year.

The biofuel facility, expected to open in February, will convert kitchen and yard waste collected at curbside into renewable natural gas. Gas, that could be used to heat buildings.

While the initial phases of the West Village Energy Centre will be fueled by high-efficiency natural gas boilers, the city intends to add low-carbon heating sources over time.

The system could later be fuelled by any number of renewable renewable sources, such as solar power and sewer heat recovery.

The city expects the energy centre to be completed by late summer or early fall of 2018.



amy.reid@surreynowleader.com

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