Masthead - Climate Control Journal

APUEA to host District Energy awards

BANGKOK, Thailand, 19 May 2021: The organisers of the 7th Global District Energy Climate Awards have invited submission of entries. Making the announcement through a Press release, they added that the deadline for receiving entries is June 30.

The Awards ceremony, to be hosted by the Asia Pacific Urban Energy Association, will take place on November 11  and 12 in Bangkok. The Awards has six categories to choose from, including New Scheme, Modernisation, Expansion, Emerging Market, District Energy in Developing Countries and Out-of-the-Box. According to the organisers, the entries will be judged by a panel of highly respected professionals.

Dr Robin Wiltshire, Chairman of the Evaluation Panel, said: “We believe that recognising excellence is vital to raising standards, aiding progression in industries and increasing awareness. Just as importantly, it boosts both morale and innovation. This is the spirit behind our upcoming Global District Energy Climate Awards. The awards are a no-fee initiative designed for the sole purpose of recognising the very best of District Energy projects, schemes and initiatives.”

Valmet to deliver multi-fuel boiler plant to Veolia

ESPOO, Finland, 2 May 2021: Valmet will deliver a multi-fuel boiler plant to Veolia Energie ČR, in Prerov, in the Czech Republic, the Finland-headquartered company said through a Press release. The new boiler will replace an old coal-fired unit and strengthen Veolia’s strategy to move toward more environmentally friendly production of district heat and electricity, Valmet added. Valmet said the order was included in its orders received in the first quarter of 2021. Typically, the value of this kind of order is EUR 35-40 million, it said. The boiler plant will be taken over by the customer in January 2023, it added.

“We chose Valmet based on the criteria of public procurement, in other words, on the combination of price and operational costs for 15 years,” says Jaromir Novak, Head of Technical Department, Veolia Energie ČR. “Valmet has a high number of running references and long experience with boilers. That is why we trust Valmet and already cherish our future relationship.”

Jari Niemelä, Director, Boilers and Gasifiers, Valmet, said: “This is yet another great example of how Valmet can support decarbonization in the energy sector. We will even reuse the existing boiler house to help reduce not only CO2 emissions from energy production but also from constructing the power plant. With flexible use of biomass and waste in all possible mixtures, the plant is fit for the challenging energy transition.”

Valmet said its delivery scope includes a 40 MWth Valmet BFB Boiler, utilising bubbling fluidised bed combustion technology. The boiler steam production is 52 t/h at 4.2 MPa(g) and 420 degrees C, it said. The multifuel boiler is designed to run from 0 to 100% on refuse-derived fuel (RDF) and/or biomass, it added.

Additionally, Valmet said, the delivery includes a flue gas cleaning system, refurbishment of an existing steel structure and its modification, electrification and instrumentation as well as an upgrade of an existing automation system.

Valmet to supply a boiler plant for district heat production

ESPOO, Finland, 21 January 2021: Valmet will supply a boiler plant for district heat production to Seinäjoen Energia Oy’s Kapernaum heat plant in Seinäjoki, Finland, the company said through a Press release. The new boiler will enable the plant to increase the use of renewable fuels in its district heat production, it added.

Owned by the city of Seinäjoki, Seinäjoen Energia provides its customers with services in electricity, district heating and water supply, Valmet said. The company has approximately 4,500 district heat customers with an annual heat need of over 500 GWh, Valmet added.

The order is included in Valmet’s orders, received in the fourth quarter 2020, the company said, adding that the boiler plant will be handed over to the customer in autumn 2022.

Vesa Hätilä, Managing Director, Seinäjoen Energia, said: “We are pleased to start this project. It is a significant step forward in producing cleaner district heat. We will be able to ensure reliable and competitively priced heat for our customers in the future, too.”

Added Kai Janhunen, Vice President, Energy Business Unit, Valmet: “This project features notable environmental values and a great significance for the district heat produced in Seinäjoki. Valmet’s delivery combines strong technical knowhow with high-quality and swift project management. We appreciate Seinäjoen Energia’s trust in Valmet.”

Valmet said it will build the new boiler plant from the foundation upwards all the way from the fuel feed silo to the stack. The core of the delivery is Valmet BFB Boiler, which utilises bubbling fluidised bed technology and runs on a wide range of biomasses. Additionally, Valmet’s delivery includes an electrostatic precipitator, a flue gas condensation unit and a Valmet DNA Automation System for the entire plant, among others.

The fuel capacity of the boiler plant, Valmet said, is 49.5 megawatts (MW). Its maximal district heat capacity, it added, is 56.5 MWth with the flue gas condensation unit.

Climate change and the larger picture of finances

Mayor James Brainard

Q&A: James Brainard, Mayor of Carmel, Indiana, United States

We have succeeded admirably in our fight against the depletion of the ozone layer through collective effort, through a cohesive, consensus-based approach of finding economically and technically sound alternatives to ozone-depleting refrigerants. How much confidence do you take from what has been a marvellous example of social cooperation?

We did the summit in the form of the Montreal Protocol over concerns of huge spike in cancer deaths, so it was a great example of world leaders coming together to study a problem, devise a solution and then go back to their countries to fix the problem. It shows diplomacy and recognition of common challenges can be good.

In the same way, could we not find a financially feasible, well-structured long-term plan to curb the widespread misuse of energy and general profligacy through steady and substantial investment in the infrastructure needed to achieve the goal?

You have identified the problem in the question, and we have to find the means of accomplishing this. We have to look at the larger picture of finances – the health impact of pollution; the cost of famines; the cost of relocation, if we have a rise in sea level, leading to the displacement of people from major cities; and the cost of possible conflicts arising out of this. But more specifically, we need to recognize many jobs are dependent on the fossil fuel industry. So, we can make those changes, but we have to recognize that we need to look out for investment of industry, we still need to fly airplanes. But, we have a saying in the US, ‘low- hanging fruit’. So, there are many easy things we can do to clean the environment and reduce fossil fuel use, and those are what we can focus on with recognising that we have to protect people’s jobs in the fossil fuel industry and that many are invested in the fossil fuel industry.

Would an approach of self-financing the fight against global warming by developing an energy budget in every city, town, state and country across the world be a possible way out, as propounded by George Berbari, the CEO of DC Pro Engineering? I am referring to a structured, long-term carrot-and-stick approach, where individuals and organisations occupying residential and commercial buildings could be rewarded for being energy efficient and penalised for being inefficient, with the penalty being slightly higher than the reward to create a positive budget, a surplus, which could be used for giving rebates to homeowners for improving insulation, glazing, etc., for developing infrastructure to lower primary energy use, for building thermal energy networks, even District Energy schemes… anything that would effectively fight climate change.

I think it would help. The colloquial shotgun approach, where we undertake to do a lot of small things. I think your idea of financial incentives and disincentives is good; and tied to that what needs to happen is disincentives need to increase over time and incentives need to go up and come down. It is certainly a system we need today. You could still pass laws, where each year, the incentives and disincentives change, to encourage disincentives to go up and incentives to go away. The tax system is also there. Or, it could be a separate tax, a carbon tax, and it has been discussed here since the late 1980s.

Economists believe such an approach to conserving primary energy is feasible, but democratically elected local and federal government leaders and local mayors have limited terms and, generally speaking, give priority to short-term problems, the solving of which gives them immediate political benefits, as opposed to decades-long and daunting task of curbing energy use through a financial mechanism and other initiatives, which might also be viewed by the city’s inhabitants that make the electorate, as adding to existing costs and impairing their personal and corporate competitiveness. In your case, you are one of the longest-serving mayors in the state, having been in office since 1996 over seven consecutive terms. Did that give you a canvas to paint a long-term vision? How effective was the approach? Did it help you shape regulation and enforcement at a city level? Were you able to raise greater awareness on the human impact on climate change and bring about a consensus-based change in energy use behaviour in Carmel?

We are a suburb of Indianapolis, which has a population of two million people. We are 100,000 people in Carmel. Now, places like Dubai and Doha require automobiles, owing to the urban sprawl. Generally, we need the automobile to go anywhere. We have looked at the problem and have a series of PPPs, where one can live, work, go to restaurant and engage in recreational activities without having to get into an automobile and, as a result, lower the consumption of fuel.

The average American spends two hours a day in automobiles, but in Carmel, businesses, houses, schools are all here. We have adopted land use development differently, so people can live, work and go to a restaurant all in the same area, and we tried to design our downtown not for automobiles, and it has cut down fuel use. In Carmel, it is 15 minutes to half an hour of automobile use per person, so it is much, much less [than the national average].

We have a legal structure in the state of Indiana that makes decisions on building codes, and they have done less than what I would like to see, but we have contract to have a much more efficient build. We have the example of the Energy Center in Carmel. We have cold winters and hot summers in Carmel, and we are using energy all year long to either heat or cool our buildings. And if you have an individual heating or cooling system, it starts and stops and is energy inefficient. And so, we have developed the Energy Center in the city, and it uses 50% less energy. And we would like to see this being applied across the city.

If energy is scarce and its excessive use damaging to the environment, should people be allowed to consume as much as they want to, as long as they are paying for it? Should affordability be a sole factor? Could we change that mindset and, at the same time, take care not to infringe on personal freedom and quality of life?

I have thought about it, and I believe in a capitalistic and free market approach. And there is a way to fix it, which is you pay USD 10, say, for 100 units of use, USD 15 for the next 100 units, and USD 20 for the next 100 units. And so the more you use, the higher the price. And it is a good system, because it penalizes the people to use it, and at the same time, they have the freedom to use it. In the case of steel production, maybe that may be very important for the economy and jobs, and so there should be a different model. You have to look at the situation where we can improve the environment, decrease carbon and increase quality of life.

Have you established a carbon neutrality goal for Carmel, like Copenhagen, for instance, where we are seeing a consensus-based approach involving all political parties, underpinned by the thought process that environmental action needs to be bipartisan in nature? Or are the political dynamics different in the United States?

It’s a good question. Our city is mainly Republican, and is fiscally and economically conservative. Some years ago, a seven-member council introduced a carbon neutrality goal, which is not mandated, however. We know we will get there, because the technology is there. It is not time bound. It is a legislative body that passed a law that laid out a carbon neutrality goal.

We have been measuring progress in reducing carbon. Every year, we are measuring how much energy the city is using on a per capita basis, because the city is growing. I don’t know if we have done enough yet, but we are making progress. I firmly believe technology will save us.

The fight against climate change needs to be a non-partisan effort within cities, states and nations. What we have seen is a vastly polarising view within the United States. With Joe Biden set to take the reins, how soon can we expect to see the United States aligning itself in a more profound manner to the Paris Agreement?

I am a Republican, and my undergraduate degree was in history, so I tend to think not today but historically. At the turn of the century, Ted Roosevelt, a Republican, set aside millions of acres in the US for the National Parks system. And President Eisenhower in 1952 established the Arctic Reserve in Alaska, and he was Republican, as well. And President Nixon was the one who set up the federal EPA. Republicans signed a law that amended our Clean Water Act. They passed a whole series of environmental laws. President Reagan led on the Montreal Protocol for the ozone protection initiative. George HW Bush and George Bush came from a state that produces a lot of oil, and yet they established a system of hundreds of windmills. Over 120 years, Republicans and Democrats have come together in a non-partisan manner. And they will come back; this anomaly has been only for a sort period of time. Clean air and water are non-partisan issues. Disagreement will come only in terms of jobs.

On December 11, 2020, the United States observed a new daily death record of 3,055 individuals, more than the number of people who died in Pearl Harbour or the September 11 attacks on the twin towers in New York City. The coronavirus cases have risen sharply in Carmel, as they have elsewhere in Indiana and across the country. What measures have you taken in Carmel to safeguard residents through better indoor air quality (IAQ), with science advocating more fresh air changes and maintaining Relative Humidity between 40% and 60% in buildings?

I think one good thing that has come from the pandemic is recognition of IAQ being important, and there are great many entrepreneurs in the US selling systems that clean the air. Our City Hall operates a new system that every few minutes recycles the air and filters and cleans the air in the building; and it is energy efficient. And building owners throughout the US are adopting this. I see this as a positive thing that has emerged.

I have put a taskforce in Carmel. We also have generated messages through emails and print newsletters and social media. We have used an entire gamut of ways to talk to people, not just about IAQ but also about things to do to handle the pandemic in a better way. Our city had done a good job till the first week of October, testing and quarantining people. It worked through summer, but when people came indoors when the temperatures fell, it went bad. We had our first set of vaccinations, yesterday (the interview with Mayor Brainard took place on December 15), so we hope to be in good shape by March or April 2021.

There are those that are saying building industry stakeholders simply need to reverse the polarity on their thinking when it comes to budgeting for indoor air quality and that we need to raise buildings fit for purpose.

Yes, it’s a good point. Energy for buildings is important, but I think IAQ is something that would work very well. We have tax incentive to make buildings more energy efficient, and over time if building owners do not take action, a penalty would start; and simultaneously, there will be a reduction in taxes for people who make more energy-efficient buildings. And that puts the burden away from the average taxpayer. Yes, I do believe in an incentive and disincentive system for establishing good IAQ.

Islington and Clapham

As we bid goodbye to 2020 and gingerly step into 2021, the feeling is not of relief, because the virus is still on the prowl. It must be added, though, that we have reached an inflexion point with the early promise being shown by some of the vaccines that have been deployed.

Now, amidst the carnage of 2020, we have been witness to heartwarming instances of human endeavour – of the medical fraternity putting their lives at risk to save others, of boffins hard at work harnessing the power of science and engineering to provide relief to not only healthcare workers but also numerous other sectors.

Away from the COVID scene, there are other instances that have stood out. Like the Bunhill Heat and Power Network project, in central London, which uses waste heat from the London Underground network to supply heat and hot water to nearly 1,500 homes and other facilities in the Borough of Islington, in a bid to lower indirect carbon emissions and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. Human ingenuity repurposed the former City Road London Underground station into an underground air extraction system. It draws warm air from the tunnels, still in use by the London Underground’s Northern Line.

Not only will the project reportedly lower indirect emissions but also cut heating costs by 10%, benefitting the residents connected to the network – a case of district energy providing succour to tenants by passing on the savings.

What is even more heartwarming, according to the company that supplied the technology to the project (see story on page XX) is that it can be replicated in underground networks the world over.

As if by coincidence, the subterranean labyrinthine depths of London constitute the theatre for yet another instance of human ingenuity and resourcefulness. Growing Underground is a farming enterprise that is using long-forgotten World War 2 tunnels used as shelter during air raids conducted by the Luftwaffe. About 100 feet beneath London’s Clapham, growers working for the enterprise are busy harvesting micro-greens using hydroponic technology, which uses 70% less water, when compared to traditional farming practices. The produce is pesticide-free and provides an opportunity to Londoners to eat fresh and without the guilt from knowledge that the greens on their plate are the result of burning copious volumes of climate-threatening fossil fuels in transporting them to their doorstep. The project is redefining food supply chains for the better and lowering food wastage by increasing shelf life.

Such examples as the Islington district energy scheme and Growing Underground serve as inspiration for us to consider abandoning some of the hackneyed approaches that are not taking us far in our quest for a better planet. They are about courage and speak of a certain frontier spirit that we ought to consider embracing.

Deciphering the dynamics of The Water Hub

Could you highlight how the drought situation drove Emory to develop The Water Hub?

The Water Hub was a concept my colleagues learnt about at a conference approximately 8-9 years ago. At the time, the technology was deployed in Europe but not in the United States. At the time, even Atlanta was going through heavy drought, and so we pursued the technology, which was put through various capital-funding concepts. Initially, a third-party actually funded, maintained and operated the facility. The water extracts were redistributed through the plants, and the contract was eventually signed in 2013, after which the facility came online in early 2015. In addition, the wastewater treated at the plant meets very high cleanliness standards – so much so that the water can be released back into the creek.

The Water Hub meets almost 100% of the water requirements of the campus’ utility systems, including Emory’s chilled water plants and the central campus steam plant, which provide cooling and heating to over 70 buildings. What is the capacity of the District Energy plants?

The Water Hub can clean up to 400,000 gallons of water per day, and we maximise the volume during our summer cooling period. We have around 20,000-25,000 tonnes of cooling capacity, so we are able to make up the cooling capacity with the volume of water.

The Water Hub, as we understand it, provides a low-energy, high-efficiency cleaning process through filtration, circulation through natural earth and plant bioreactors, and exposure to ultraviolet light and chlorination. How much is the energy cost?

In the locale where we are, our water is sent downstream to a very large water treatment plant, where it would be treated, redistributed and then pumped back into the system. Similar to power and when you have energy-redistributed resources, so we have to pump and process close to where the demand is and we don’t have the distribution losses or the energy needed to pump the clean water back to us or to pump the waste down to the treatment plant. So, the numbers aren’t as transparent as we’d like them to be, but we do know that it is saving energy, because we are only pumping it within our campus.

Could you elaborate on the challenges with regard to achieving operational efficiencies?

One of the things we found out early on was that there are a lot of different things in the sanitary waste stream. We found that one of the research departments was dumping animal beddings into the sewer system, and it was creating problems at the pump intakes. As a result, they had to keep cleaning the pumps and pulling them out. We then asked them to compost the animal beddings, which was a better way to dispose them. It has really given us a crude understanding of what’s in the system, and presently we have an issue where they have found baby wipes in the system. This is a major challenge in terms of what’s plugging the intakes. When you are not in the business, you don’t think about these things. We did not anticipate all this, and now we have installed filtering devices on the front end.

How were you able to reduce carbon emissions with regard to water use on campus?

Well, I think it goes back to discharging and reusing our own water. Now, we are not relying on pumping water from a distance. We also installed solar panels at the facility, so they are helping set the electrical use at the water plant.

Joan Kowal, Senior Director, Energy & Utilities, Emory University

Does the water need to be polished before deploying it as makeup water for the campus chilled-water system?

We have polishers at our steam plant, but we don’t have them at our cooling towers. However, we did have to modify our chemical treatment programme at the cooling towers. Modify in the sense that the original chemistry was based on the quality of the water. So, we had to reduce some and add others, while adjusting the menu of chemicals used.

What happens to the blowdown water? Where does it go?

When water is brought to the cooling tower, it rejects the heat from the chilled water system, and as you reject the heat you see a steam mist coming from the top. The evaporation of water causes a concentrated mix of chemicals left in the basin of the cooling tower. When the chemicals concentrate and get to a point that is high, you then have to get the valve and blow down the water. It is then closed and refilled with non-chemically treated water. We operate in 7-8 cycles of blowing down water, which then goes back to the Hub and mingles with the rest of the water. The rest goes back out to a different part of the sanitary system.

What has been the overall response to The Water Hub? Also, are there any additional challenges with regard to odour?

There are people interested who want to replicate what we have. We were very stringent with our developer, when it comes to smell. There shouldn’t be an odour, and it is located right near residential facilities and offices. The technology we use is such that you don’t have the build-up of gases to create the smell.

‘The real value of District Energy is seen over a long-term basis’

Jim Lodge

Could you comment on the uptake of District Cooling in the Middle East region? Do you see an opportunity for the region to drive the growth of District Cooling to a level similar to that in Denmark?

In Denmark, District Heating is just expected. It’s something in their culture for so many years. If you’re getting electricity for your building, most people don’t think of generating it themselves. They would go to the utility supplier and get it. It’s an integral part of the infrastructure, so when people think of doing their building, the first thing they think about is whether there is a network out there. That’s just what they would do; it’s sort of a natural instinct.

I think cooling in the Middle East is getting there, too. I contrast that to the United States and District Cooling/Heating – it is a much smaller slice of that effort, it’s more surprising that there would even be a system. Many times, when people are developing a building, they’re not even thinking about District Energy development in the area; they just think there is the building and they think of putting their own cooling equipment or heating equipment in.  

Is it because of diversity of geography?

A little bit. If developers are familiar with the local area, then they’ll know about it, if it’s there. But if they’re new to the area, then they may not know, and it may not be something they consciously think about. What I do say for people that want to go on District Energy, in general, too often people want to jump into the economics of it, instead of looking at it and saying qualitatively, “What does this do for me?”

In my experience, if I talked to people about the value of using District Energy, and they understand it and they go, “I like that, those values resonated with me”, that’s more than half the battle won, because if people want it, then they look at the economics, which they always have to do, to justify it. More often, if someone hasn’t gone through the process of understanding the benefits of District Energy, and I’m not talking about true financial ones, then, they may be more apt to say, “I’m not feeling comfortable”, and when you do the finances because you’re doing something over a longer period of time, it’s really easy, if you don’t want it, to put the numbers in the spreadsheet in the right way, so the economics don’t make sense. But if you want it, then you will do more investigation to make sure you have an accurate assumption of the financial model. District Energy is very different from having your own system, and too often people want to compare it to that, but it’s like a different type of car. Yes, you drive both cars, but a Ferrari is very different from a Volkswagen, and I’m not saying we are the Ferrari, but I’m not saying we are the Volkswagen, either. The quality and reliability of District Energy is significantly better than individual building systems, and when someone talks of the total cost of the development and all the operating cost over the life of the building, District Energy is relatively small in scale, compared to that.

In the United States, we have seen many customers, where we have had contracts. If someone is looking at an investor building to resell it, we have seen District Energy is a benefit, because when you have a building that is being sold and you have liabilities associated with the central plant, where people take capital investment, that is an added cost an investor is later going to top, whereas if you have a District Energy system, as long as the contract is understood, from a market standpoint, it is competitive. The new owner picks it up, and we have had new buildings in our system exchange hands multiple times with developers.

Ultimately, it’s the utility providers’ responsibility to communicate the financial value and the soft items that are more qualitative in nature. 

What are the paybacks?

Payback is not the right metric. It’s important to talk to CFOs – those interested in capital and operating expenses – and then you have to do a lifecycle cost analysis. That’s going to look at what their ultimate cost will be, both on the capital and the operating side, for an extended period of time, which would typically be 25-30 years because of the lifespan of equipment. The challenge comes when most people can look at capital cost, because they can get estimates of that nature. It is very hard for people or buildings to have a good history of the 30-year operating and maintenance expenses for the District Energy company. District Energy should win if people have done their job every single time, and the reason they should win is, if you think about it, if the overall cost is the same in the long run, why would I want to take the risk associated with operating my own plant? Because if I have risk associated with that, that is added cost. District Energy systems remove all the risk associated with reliability of service equipment, failures and construction costs. No one is taking on that risk. If someone brings a brand new building, we are taking construction risk associated with the mechanical equipment.

How much goodwill do District Energy providers have in the United States? Has that value of District Energy been revealed to more stakeholders, or do you feel more work has to be done in that regard?

I think a lot of work has to be done. I don’t think people recognize that at all. There are some customers that do. If the District Energy company is doing a good job in communicating with them and being able to let them know some of the things they are doing, they will recognize that. The challenge is that too many of the customer representatives of those buildings don’t stay very long. It gets tough, because the real value of District Energy with that goodwill is seen over a long-term basis. When you think about it, if you buy a new car, the first few years it works perfectly fine. Like leasing, it goes back. You never experience holding on to it for 20 years, because the last 10 years, maybe the last five years, the contract is the most challenging. That’s when you have to run your own equipment, you have lots of failures, you have an issue trying to extend the life. You don’t have that with District Energy. With District Energy, you are paying someone else, you are supplying reliable cooling there every day – out of sight and out of mind.

I would say District Energy companies and their employees tend to be long-term, the customer buildings tend to have higher turnover, so it’s harder to have people recognize some of that goodwill you’re talking about.

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