Sewer Heat Recovery at the False Creek Neighbourhood Utility

By on February 22nd, 2023 in Our Projects
The False Creek NEU Energy Centre (Credit: Kristopher Grunert)

Vancouver’s False Creek Neighbourhood Energy Utility (NEU) was the first district energy project in North America to recover waste heat from raw sewage, one of only three other such systems in the world at the time it was developed. 

The concept for the False Creek NEU was approved by the City of Vancouver in 2006 and began operation during the 2010 Winter Olympics. The initial service area was the neighbourhood known as Southeast False Creek, a former industrial area on Vancouver’s waterfront and the site of Vancouver’s Olympic Village. This neighbourhood was expected to undergo rapid revitalization and development following the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The NEU is currently owned and operated by the City of Vancouver. Since 2010, City Council has expanded the service area multiple times. It now includes Mount Pleasant, the False Creek Flats, and Northeast False Creek. As of 2022, the NEU supplied space heating and domestic hot water to over 6.4 million square feet of residential, commercial, and institutional space, including Science World and Emily Carr University. About 25 million square feet is anticipated to be connected by full build out of the current service area.

The NEU captures waste heat in raw sewage to produce space heating and hot water via a large industrial heat pump. The heat is distributed to individual buildings through a modern low-temperature hot water network. The Energy Centre, which has received architectural accolades, currently contains 3.2 MW of sewage heat recovery capacity. However, an additional 6.6 MW of sewage heat recovery capacity is being added in 2023 to meet demand growth. Because of technological improvements, Vancouver is able to fit twice the capacity in the same footprint as the first heat pump installation.

The NEU has won multiple awards, including the International District Energy Association’s Champion City UN Environment District Energy in Cities Initiative Public Sector Leadership Award in 2018.

The team at Reshape has been involved in this project since its inception. Members of our team led the initial integrated energy management plan for Southeast False Creek (SEFC) that followed the awarding of the 2010 Winter Olympics to Vancouver. This plan considered a variety of demand-side and supply-side alternatives for improving energy performance and reducing emissions within the SEFC Official Development Area. District energy emerged as a promising option. After further pre-screening, our team led a detailed feasibility study and business case which considered a range of development scenarios and energy sources, including sewer heat recovery and a small biomass plant. The business case also considered a variety of ownership options.

Following a decision by City Council to proceed with a City-owned utility utilizing sewer heat, our team prepared the detailed pro forma and initial rates for the utility. This included a unique provision for net metering of solar thermal energy from several social housing projects. We supported the development of the service area bylaw, the creation of an independent rate review panel, as well as the development of extension policies. We maintained the pro forma through the initial development and provided several updates following the commercial operation date. Most recently, we have been helping the city evaluate options for maintaining a consistently low-carbon energy supply as the load on the system continues to grow, and to evaluate different low-carbon supply scenarios that would enable the system to be 100% low-carbon in the future.

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Reshape Infrastructure Strategies Ltd.
409 Granville St, Suite 925
Vancouver, BC
V6C 1T2