By Jeff Cowan, President and CEO
Hamilton Community Enterprises

Everyone, everywhere likes to reduce waste. It’s how we conserve resources, save money and prepare for a rainy day. Affordability concerns, uncertainty in energy markets and the growing threat of climate change are all driving us to reduce the amount of energy we consume. This is especially true for the energy used to heat our homes and workplaces.

We believe a key solution lies in energy harvesting — the process of capturing and repurposing waste heat.

Why are we so interested in energy harvesting? It starts by knowing that in Ontario we waste more than 60 percent of the energy we consume. If we wasted less, we would require less. Efforts to achieve this goal are sparking innovations in heat recovery. These developments are having a positive impact on our economy, society and the environment.

Complementary to energy harvesting is the field of district energy, also known as thermal networks.

Thermal networks use insulated underground pipes to carry heated water to numerous buildings in an area or campus. This energy provides space heating through radiators, under-floor systems or warm air ducts. Networks are supplied by central plants that circulate hot water in a continuous loop. It adds up to increased energy efficiency, lower operating costs, improved reliability and resilience, and reduced GHG emissions.

These networks have been operational for decades. What’s new is the increased use of waste heat as an alternative way to boost the temperature of water. This has decreased reliance on gas and electric boilers within these networks. It marks a milestone in the decarbonization of thermal networks through the integration of local energy resources.

Sources of waste heat suitable for thermal networks are readily found in most communities. Examples include factories, data centres and wastewater. Even low-grade heat from sewer systems, cooling towers and supermarkets can be incorporated into high-efficiency, low-carbon thermal networks. Breakthroughs in heat pump technologies and short- and long-term thermal storage have accelerated the adoption of heat recovery.

In the world of energy harvesting, local advantages determine what’s technically feasible and commercially viable. For one community, it may mean harnessing residual heat from a nearby power plant. For another, it’s tapping into thermal wells deep underground.

In Hamilton’s case, it’s all about seizing the opportunity to capture residual heat from our local industrial sector for use in an expanded thermal network currently serving our downtown core. As our city’s district energy provider, Hamilton Community Enterprises is excited to help make this a reality.

Imagine a network delivering warmth and domestic hot water to more than 80 million square feet of building space across lower city Hamilton and beyond. Picture mission-critical green infrastructure serving our most valued institutions — hospitals, schools and long-term care homes — while supporting the ongoing presence of local industry. And consider how a thermal network could be used to attract new companies to Hamilton, including those that produce or use large amounts of heat.

We call our proposed network, Canada’s Thermal Corridor. We envision a made in Hamilton energy utility of national significance that would create additional value for heat produced by manufacturers that form the foundation of jobs, prosperity and competitiveness in our community. Equally important, it would provide an affordable alternative to electrifying building heating in Ontario, a massive undertaking sure to drive up energy costs.

Hamilton Community Enterprises, a technology company owned by the City of Hamilton, is now leading a study to assess the viability of the proposed corridor. We’re working with industry, government, academia and the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce on a blueprint for building next generation thermal infrastructure in Hamilton.

Our aim is to provide a buffer against rising energy costs, a solution to decarbonize building heating and a second life for waste heat.

We look forward to sharing our plans in the coming months. Visit energyharvestingstudy.ca to learn more.

Hamilton Community Enterprises, Finalized April 17