If you haven’t heard, Grand Rapids, Michigan is poised to be a leader in urban sustainability. Named a fully recognized 2030 District by Architecture 2030, the city has been lauded for its commitment to sustainable growth. As a 2030 District, Grand Rapids has committed to a 50 percent reduction in energy use by 2030 and reduction targets for water use and transportation emissions. As the leading provider of district energy in the U.S., it's no surprise that Veolia is in the mix.
In an effort to contribute to the community’s sustainability efforts, Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) decided to retire its onsite boiler plant and connect to Veolia’s local district energy system for heating, hot water and air conditioning. This move makes the campus more sustainable and decreases its carbon footprint.
District energy is the production and distribution of thermal energy, produced at a central plant and distributed to the community through an underground piping network. By connecting to a district energy system, customers reduce onsite operations and maintenance needs and costs. District energy also helps customers benefit from sustainable upgrades that reduce energy and water use, key components to Grand Rapids' 2030 goals.
A number of improvements have helped make Veolia’s district energy system the preferred route for more than 120 customers, including the local hospital, sports arena and exhibition center, retail centers, office buildings, apartment buildings and governmental facilities. By efficiently generating and distributing thermal energy, GRCC and downtown customers gain competitive prices, reduced carbon footprint and enhanced reliability. These improvements include:
- Installing and making upgrades to a condensing economizer (waste heat recovery): This heat recovery technology captures heat from exhaust stacks and uses it to pre-heat water being fed into the boilers. This installation helped reduce fuel consumption, carbon footprint, and price.
- Expanding the capacity of the condensing economizer and upgrading efficiency and controls of reserve boilers in 2015 ensures that recent growth will be served as efficiently as possible.
- Reinsulating piping in manholes: Reinsulation keeps steam where it needs to be. This has helped to reduce heat loss into the atmosphere, also lowering costs.
- Reducing distribution system leaks: Originally, the steam distribution system consisted of high- and low-pressure pipes. Because the low-pressure system was older, it experienced greater heat loss and cost more to maintain. Retiring this low-pressure system over time and replacing it with a second high-pressure system improves overall efficiency and reduces costs.
The new and improved Grand Rapids District Energy system has seen notable results since these implementations, including 5 percent boiler efficiency improvement and a 13 percent decrease in the annual cost of commodities. The system now conserves three million gallons of water annually and decreased its line losses (heat lost while moving through the distribution system) by 23 percent.
The United Nations recently found that “the most effective approach” to transitioning to sustainable energy was the adoption of modern district energy systems. If you’re interested in learning more about the sustainable benefits of these systems, contact us.