What Does a Smart Energy Community Look Like?

By Brent Gilmour

In his role as Executive Director for Quality Urban Energy Systems of Tomorrow (QUEST), Brent Gilmour MCIP, RPP is responsible for advancing the implementation of the QUEST vision and providing the overall leadership for the successful deployment of research and education to support Integrated Community Energy Systems in Canada.

Sep 24, 2013 | Smart Cities | 0 comments


Who will you meet?

Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.

Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.


 

QUEST hears the question all the time: what does a smart energy community actually look like? Thanks to communities across Canada which are increasingly implementing smart energy projects, in many ways it’s getting to be an easier question to answer. I can say, “just look at the city of Vancouver, where they are capturing waste heat from their sewage treatment processes and using it for space and water heating in 16,000 residences and businesses.” Or, “look at Toronto where Enwave is capturing the cooling energy from Lake Ontario and cycling it to provide air conditioning for 40 high rises and facilities in downtown Toronto.”

But in many ways answering the question “what does a smart energy community look like” remains a challenge. That’s because becoming a smart energy community hinges on a much more broad and integrated approach to energy production, delivery, and use at the community level, and not just on flashy applications like those mentioned above.

When it comes to smart energy communities, integration is the operative word.

A smart energy community integrates in three ways. First, it integrates conventional energy networks. That means that the electricity, natural gas, and transportation fuel networks in a community are better coordinated to match energy needs with the most efficient energy source. In most communities, for example, providing space and water heating using electricity is inefficient – it uses a high quality and often high cost energy commodity in an application that doesn’t need it. The net result is a significant amount of wasted high-quality energy. Heating and cooling tends to be most efficiently provided by natural gas or local renewable sources; electricity should be left to power appliances, lighting, and other machinery. Meanwhile, in some communities, the traditional use of gasoline or diesel for transportation is inefficient while electricity or natural gas is a more efficient option. The integration of conventional energy networks makes connecting energy sources with energy services in an efficient manner possible. Meanwhile, technologies such as Combined Heat & Power (CHP), smart meters, electric vehicles, energy storage, energy efficient buildings and machinery, and district energy can all lead to significant energy conservation by making integrating conventional energy networks easier.

Second, a smart energy community integrates land use, recognizing that poor land use decisions can equal a whole lot of energy waste. Urban sprawl and the resulting suburbs which were characteristic of 20th century planning are an example of land use decisions that result in energy waste. In the Greater Toronto and Hampton Area this is clearly visible every weekday morning on Highway 401 and on other central transportation arteries where vehicles are burning energy while stuck in gridlock. All land use and related transportation decisions have energy implications. Integrating land use means managing those implications and planning in a way that will result in energy conservation.

Third, a smart energy community integrates local energy opportunities. That means looking at steam coming out of a sewer in the wintertime and thinking “hmmm, there’s heat down there”. While Vancouver does this on a neighbourhood scale, other communities like Barrie (ON) and Richmond (BC) among many others are applying this on a building or facility scale. It also means remarking on how cold the water is in the summertime and thinking “there’s energy there”.  In addition to Toronto, Halifax and Vancouver also apply water source cooling on a smaller scale. And it means noting the not-so-pleasant smell around landfills and thinking “let’s burn that methane for electricity, or, let’s capture it and add it to the natural gas network”. Landfill gas capture is a fast growing source of renewable natural gas and electricity, not to mention a tool for reducing methane emissions – a particularly potent greenhouse gas.

Integrating local energy opportunities means recognizing the assets that you have in your community and putting them to use. Sometimes these are assets that are specific to a particular community and that lend themselves to unique solutions, for example water source cooling (Toronto, Halifax), sewage heat capture (Vancouver, Barrie, Richmond), biomass for heating (Ouje Bougoumou First Nation), biogas for electricity (Edmonton, Milton), and biogas for fuelling vehicle fleets (Surrey) among others. And, sometimes, these are stock community assets that are widely applicable, for example the range of both proven and burgeoning renewable technologies that can contribute in just about any community (solar, wind, geothermal, etc). Putting these local energy assets to work contributes to significant energy conservation.

Integrating conventional energy systems – making good land use decisions – harnessing local energy opportunities: becoming a truly smart energy community means doing all three. Getting there isn’t easy. But the returns are significant: improved energy conservation, secured energy reliability, cuts in energy costs, and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention economic advantages and jobs. When it comes to energy, what more can a community ask for?

Discussion

Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

No Equity, No Resilience: Minneapolis is All of Us

No Equity, No Resilience: Minneapolis is All of Us

This article was originally published on September 8, 2020.

Update for April 20, 2021:

After the murder of George Floyd we wrote this article as a kind of blueprint, a beginning to a new way of working with equitable resilience in our cities and beyond. Now, as the trial of Derek Chauvin comes to a guilty verdict in Minneapolis and the whole country reflects on the legacy of that verdict, we have to remember another senseless murder – another young Black man, Daunte Wright, at the hands of law enforcement, just miles from the courthouse. Again, Minneapolis is all of us. We have protested, we have voted. We stood up, we spoke out, we have raged about the anti-Black racism. We have seen people come together, we can feel a shift in this country. But there is so much more to do. No equity, no resilience.

-Ron & Stewart

How Affordable Green Housing Enhances Cities

How Affordable Green Housing Enhances Cities

Housing that is affordable to low-income residents is often substandard and suffering from deferred maintenance, exposing residents to poor air quality and high energy bills. This situation can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory health issues, and siphon scarce dollars from higher value items like more nutritious food, health care, or education. Providing safe, decent, affordable, and healthy housing is one way to address historic inequities in community investment. Engaging with affordable housing and other types of community benefit projects is an important first step toward fully integrating equity into the green building process. In creating a framework for going deeper on equity, our new book, the Blueprint for Affordable Housing (Island Press 2020), starts with the Convention on Human Rights and the fundamental right to housing.  

The Pandemic, Inequality, Housing Affordability, and Urban Land

The Pandemic, Inequality, Housing Affordability, and Urban Land

Since the Great Recession of 2008, the housing wealth gap has expanded to include not just Black and Brown Americans, but younger White Americans as well. Millennials and Generation Z Whites are now joining their Black and Brown peers in facing untenable housing precarity and blocked access to wealth. With wages stuck at 1980 levels and housing prices at least double (in inflation adjusted terms) what they were 40 years ago, many younger Americans, most with college degrees, are giving up on buying a home and even struggle to rent apartments suitable for raising a family.

What makes it hard for policy people and citizens to accept this truth is that we have not seen this problem in a very long time. Back in the 1920s of course, but not really since then. But this is actually an old problem that has come back to haunt us; a problem first articulated by Adam Smith in the 1700s.

The Future of Cities

Mayors, planners, futurists, technologists, executives and advocates — hundreds of urban thought leaders publish on Meeting of the Minds. Sign up below to follow the future of cities.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Wait! Before You Leave —

Wait! Before You Leave —

Subscribe to receive updates on the Executive Cohort Program!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This