Combined Heat And Power In Boston’s Municipal Buildings: Cost-effective Solutions

Combined Heat And Power In Boston’s Municipal Buildings: Cost-effective Solutions – Policymakers have long wondered how to reduce the carbon emissions caused by the heating and cooling systems of Boston’s office towers, universities and hospitals.

A big answer to this vexing question lies right in front of them – in the Charles River.

Combined Heat And Power In Boston’s Municipal Buildings: Cost-effective Solutions

Combined Heat And Power In Boston's Municipal Buildings: Cost-effective Solutions

Vicinity Energy, the private equity-backed owner of Steam Systems in Boston and Cambridge, has signed an agreement with MAN Energy Solutions to build a low-temperature source heat pump system at Vicinity’s plant near Kendall Square in Cambridge to generate steam. The source of that low temperature? Charles River water.

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Proximity is already retrofitting its Kendall plant, which uses natural gas to fire its steam boilers and a power-generating turbine that generates steam from its excess thermal energy. The company is replacing one of those gas-fired steam turbines with a boiler that will run off the electric grid, a $20 million project that will deliver steam to customers paying a premium to come from renewable electricity. Proximity will harvest that energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar plants and deliver “green” steam to customers — starting from a lab complex near Fenway Park built by developer IQHQ.

The deal with MAN, a German subsidiary of carmaker Volkswagen, could offer Vicini another green option that could reach more buildings at a lower cost. The goal is for giant industrial-size heat pumps to generate 40 percent of Vicinity’s steam for Boston and Cambridge; The company supplies steam that can heat more than 70 million square feet of buildings (the equivalent of about 60 Prudential Towers) in the two cities.

Kevin Haggerty, Deputy CEO and COO of Vicinity Energy, shows the old water pumping infrastructure as it is replaced by new electric boilers at the Kendall Power Plant in Cambridge, MA. Nathan Klima for the Boston Globe

“The amount of thermal energy in the river that flows is enormous,” said Bill DeCroce, CEO of Vicinity. “It’s an untapped renewable resource that flows every day. The technology wasn’t there to tap into it [before]. We’ll have it now. We’re using a lot of existing infrastructure.”

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DiCroce said MAN already makes these heat pump setups in Europe for hot water. Although it will use larger and more powerful compressors. Because the system is using the river’s thermal energy, it will return water to the Charles at a cooler temperature, about five degrees Fahrenheit. The system will draw up to 80,000 gallons per minute from the river, he said, under the authority granted by existing environmental permits for cooling purposes.

Heat pumps, from room sizes to industrial machines, basically work by pulling some heat from a source — the outside air, the ground or, in this case, nearby water — and moving it to another location.

“The novel part of this is being able to use river water, a low-temperature source, and make steam with it,” DeCroce said. “It’s never been done before on this scale.”

Combined Heat And Power In Boston's Municipal Buildings: Cost-effective Solutions

In fact, it will be the largest such heat pump complex in the United States. DeCros said he hopes to have it installed within three years. The exact cost has yet to be determined, though it could be several million dollars. As demand for zero-carbon heat grows, DiCroce hopes Vicinity will install a second one in Kendall to keep up.

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“This is the first domino to fall in the United States,” said Chris Froughton, MAN’s director of carbon capture and heat pumps. “Steam-generation heat pumps are not a well-known thing. If we come up with the biggest project ever, … it will show the world what’s possible.”

On Friday, Vicinity hosted a British delegation to the Kendal plant, led by MP Chris Skidmore, with local officials and environmental leaders to discuss the heat pump project and electric boiler plans.

New electric boilers will be installed at Kendall Power Plant in Cambridge to help decarbonise Vicinity Energy’s heating system. Nathan Klima for the Boston Globe

“It sounds really promising,” Casey Bowers, executive director of the ELM Action Fund, said after leaving the Kendall plant. “The water they send back into the river will be five degrees cooler, which is very good for the river in general. I think it’s really exciting. … As with everything, it will be important to follow through and follow through to make sure it’s as great as we believe it will be.”

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Emily Norton, executive director of the Charles River Watershed Association, is also optimistic. He said heat-pump technology shows the potential to reduce carbon emissions, and his group looks forward to working with Vicinity to improve “public access and ecology of this important but degraded stretch of river.” Given the threat posed by climate change, he said, it is important to explore creative solutions as possible.

Eventually, DeCroce uses heat pumps to provide the bulk of steam for its Boston and Cambridge customers, and envisions launching similar projects in 11 other cities where Vicinity operates district energy systems, such as Philadelphia and Baltimore. He said he would like to have up to three electric-fired boilers at Kendall, as well as a natural gas-fired electric turbine as a backup power source for the region’s electric grid.

He said the heat pump project doesn’t need proximity subsidies but has hired a firm to find federal funding to help defray costs and plans to lobby state officials to make sure it counts toward the state’s Alternative Portfolio Standards program for thermal energy incentives. doing It is hoped that a lower price for heat pump-generated steam will encourage more widespread adoption. Municipal policies are also helping: Boston already has rules requiring owners of large buildings to reduce their carbon emissions over time, and officials in Cambridge are close to adopting something similar.

Combined Heat And Power In Boston's Municipal Buildings: Cost-effective Solutions

Representative Jeff Roy, vice chairman of the House Energy Committee in the Legislature, said he was impressed by Vicinity executives as they laid out their plans. Reducing or eliminating emissions from buildings, especially large ones such as energy-intensive labs in suburban Boston and Cambridge, is considered critical to meeting the state’s net-zero carbon emissions goal by 2050.

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“Probably the biggest concern for me is: How are we going to decarbonize our buildings?” Roy said. “It sounds like an amazing move.”

Bill DeCrose (right), President and CEO of Vicinity Energy, meets with Chris Skidmore, a British Member of Parliament, to discuss decarbonizing heating systems in urban settings at the Kendall Power Plant in Cambridge. Nathan Klima for The Boston Globa Lock (LockA Locked Padlock) ) or https:// means you are securely connected to the .gov website. Only share sensitive information on official, secure websites.

CHP is a superior energy resource for hospitals because it can efficiently and indefinitely provide all of a hospital’s energy services during grid outages. For hospitals, losing power—even for a short time—can disrupt critical life support systems. Power outages can put lives at risk. And as weather-related events in the U.S. become more frequent and severe, grid outages are becoming more common. CHP, an onsite generation resource, can enable hospitals to continue providing all services during grid outages.

In addition to providing reliable energy and making hospitals more resilient, CHP can help hospitals reduce costs and meet their sustainability and emissions reduction goals.

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CHP, or combined heat and power, is the simultaneous production of electricity and thermal energy (ie, steam for heating, cooling, hot water, and disinfection).

CHP has several advantages over conventional energy services (eg, grid-supplied electricity and steam or hot water from an on-site boiler):

CHP does not meet requirements (in accordance with local, state, and federal codes and standards) to install and maintain hospital emergency generators to support life-threatening services. However, adding CHP may be a better choice than relying solely on emergency generators.

Combined Heat And Power In Boston's Municipal Buildings: Cost-effective Solutions

The power is out in New York City, but for Montefiore Medical Center (MMC), it’s business as usual. Patient rooms are comfortable, hallways are bright, and operating rooms and medical equipment are up and running MMC was operational during two of the most catastrophic grid outages in the United States, the Northeast blackout of 2003 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

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In 1993, MMC became the first hospital in New York City to install a CHP system, providing reliable, year-round energy service, even during power outages. In 2001, MMC increased its commitment to CHP, expanding the system from 5 to 9.5 MW.

The Northeast blackout affected 50 million people and disabled critical systems across the Northeast. MMC continues to operate with full electric service, the only hospital in New York City to do so. The CHP system also continues to supply MMC during heat waves, further protecting patient safety.

Nine years later, Hurricane Sandy left more than 7.5 million people without power, including the New York City area where MMC is located. MMC’s CHP system enabled it to be fully operational again, allowing it to accommodate patients evacuated from nearby hospitals.

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