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In July 2022, the Boltzmann Institute  applied for two grants in a competition arranged by the federal government’s Climate Action and Awareness Fund (link). What follows are brief and thus incomplete accounts of what was proposed.

Grant #1: What we’ll see down two pathways

This project is in conjunction with McMaster University’s Faculty of Engineering. The grant application was for a total of about $1,000,000.

The thrust is to rigorously quantify the impact of building heating electrification in Ontario and compare the consequent capital cost with 4th generation district heating (4GDH).

The objectives are to: (1) accurately estimate the increased peak power demand likely to arise from electrification of heating (this is not as simple as it may seem and the methodologies developed in this project would be replicable usefully across Canada) and the consequences, (2) quantify zero-emission heat sources, such as renewable heat, in each of the local electricity distribution company (LDC) service areas, (3) juxtapose results from (1) and (2) for each LDC, (4) estimate the typical cost in Ontario of seasonal thermal energy storage, (5) illustrate the typical cost of 4GDH infrastructure supplying existing buildings with zero emissions, (6) apply to remote, indigenous communities, (7) describe the distributional aspects of each pathway and (8) ensure the information derived in this project reaches potential knowledge users, at a minimum a good portion of the 63 LDC’s in Ontario.

The project will consist of a number of activities collecting and processing data corresponding to the objectives: (1) peak power demands, (2) zero emission heat sources, (3) consolidation of the results from (1) and (2), (4) design of seasonal thermal energy storage, (5) illustrative pre-feasibility of 4GDH, (6) application to remote indigenous communities, (7) distributary consequences and (8) communication.

In effect, the project will look down two pathways to achieving zero emissions from buildings.  It will discover the relative affordability to everyone of going down each of those pathways (governments, electric utilities, homeowners, building owners and tenants) for keeping warm in the winter and having domestic hot water for personal hygiene and cleaning clothes and dishes. 

The funding will be spent on organizing large amounts of information to do a lot of calculations and presenting the results in ways that are easy to understand by ordinary people.  The point of all this is to give governments the understanding required to make sensible decisions about which path to emphasize in different circumstances.

Grant #2: Pathway to profound and affordable decarbonization of building operations through district heating

The aim of this three-phase project is to assess the feasibility of deploying district heating in each of the neighbourhoods and districts of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). The grant application was for a total of just under $300,000. 

Phase 1 would involve securing the cooperation of as many as possible of the 30 GTHA municipalities in the project and identifying both suitable divisions of each municipality and current best practices in determining the required feasibility. Municipal cooperation will be particularly important in figuring out both existing development in each neighbourhood and district and additional development expected in respectively 2030, 2040, and 2050. Less-than-satisfactory estimates will be made where cooperation cannot be secured.

The actual determinations of feasibility would occur in Phase 2, In general, each neighbourhood and district would be classified as suitable for deployment of district heating, possibly suitable, and unsuitable, now and in the three future years. The primary criterion would be the cost of connection of most buildings to a thermal network. This could be using a simple function such as the ratio of the average building’s floor space to its frontage. It could involve using a more complex function or functions as may be determined during Phase 1.

Phase 3 would focus on sharing the results of the feasibility work with municipalities and determining their interest in participating in further work (touched on below). It would also involve a preliminary scan of opportunities for identifying appropriate heat sources and locations for hot-water storage facilities.

Actual determination of potential heat sources and storage facilities would be the subject of a further funding application, necessarily dependent on satisfactory completion of this project.

Having identified the potential demand for district heating and how it could be met, a next step could be securing investment what could amount to widespread deployment of district heating across much of the GTHA. This could be done by issuing a Request for Expressions of Interest, such as was done by the City of Bristol UK, which has about a fourteenth of the GTHA’s population. That worldwide REI led to over 100 responses and to investment by an American and Swedish consortium of some £630 million (C$1 billion) during the first five years of a 20-year contract, most on district heating. Such an REI could be issued by a collaborative of participating GTHA municipalities, perhaps with provincial and or federal government participation, perhaps with expectation of investment of several tens of billions of dollars.