When Low-Carbon means Low-Cost: Putting Lessons from Nature to work in our Cities

When Low-Carbon means Low-Cost: Putting Lessons from Nature to work in our Cities

Stephen J. Salter (Farallon Consultants Limited, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/jsesd.2011100102
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Ecology is often discussed as a matter of balance, in which environmental protection must be affordable and not interfere with jobs or the economy. At the same time, the economy is based on wastefulness. It has been estimated that the embodied energy in wasted food in the United States is greater than the energy available from the production of ethanol and from the annual yield from petroleum drilling in the outer continental shelf (Cuéllar & Webber, 2010). In addition, rising demand for fossil fuels is being met by sources that bring increasing environmental risk. This paper summarizes the industrial ecology aspects of a 2010 study completed by a cross-functional team of specialists in ecology, engineering, economics, and governance in Vancouver, Canada. The Integrated Resource Recovery Study, Metro Vancouver North Shore Communities (the North Shore Study) modeled the value of producing reclaimed water, electricity, and heat from wastewater, clean organic wood waste, and waste heat from industry simultaneously. The results suggest that this integrated approach could yield significant ecological benefits, and reduce the community’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25%. In addition, revenues from sales of recovered heat, water, greenhouse gas credits, and fertilizer could significantly reduce the cost of municipal waste management to taxpayers.
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Sources of Waste

In order to model the resource recovery options as realistically as possible, an inventory of solid waste, liquid waste, and waste energy was developed through questionnaires and interviews with representatives of local governments, industrial, and commercial organizations. Potential sources of waste were also identified through Environment Canada's National Pollutant Release Inventory, municipal reports and data, and field trips.

Potential Markets for Recovered Resources

Two hundred and eighty-six buildings in the North Shore Communities were identified as potential candidates for connection to a district energy system. These buildings were chosen because they operate large hydronic heating systems that could be served by district energy, and are located within a reasonable distance of sources of heat (please refer to the Distribution of Energy and Water section).

The economics of providing heating and cooling to buildings through a district energy system depend on both the quantity of energy required, and when the energy is required. If a building consumes all of its energy in the winter months, then equipment must be sized to meet this peak load, but will be idle during the summer. If on the other hand energy is required throughout the year, then a better balance between supply and demand can be achieved.

An analysis of buildings in the North Shore Communities indicated that Multi-Unit Residential Buildings and health care facilities would account for 70% and 10% of total demand respectively. As a result, a significant proportion of the total energy that could be supplied by a district energy system would be delivered during summer months, thus improving the energy balance and economics of the system.

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