Vancouver district energy

Posted on November, 04 2015

Harvesting neighbourhood energy

Harvesting neighbourhood energy

Vancouver´s Neighbourhood Energy Strategy is a key element in the city´s Greenest City 2020 plan, for which it was once again crowned as Canada´s National Earth Hour Capital in 2015. Through a decentralised strategy, with a tailored approach to each area in the city, Vancouver is becoming a world authority in district energy, its experience replicable in a variety of contexts. In 2015 it became the leading city in C40s District Energy working group.

Vancouver was awarded the title Global Earth Hour Capital in Earth Hour City Challenge 2015
Keywords: District energy, renewables, energy efficiency, Greenest City Plan, green building plan

Vancouver has finished the first part of its Greenest City 2020 plan, adopted in 2011, implementing 80% of the 125 priority actions it set out to achieve by the end of 2014 (see also Vancouver). It has reduced community GHG emissions by 7% from a 2007 baseline, still far from the target of 33% by 2020 from 2007 levels. But in some areas, progress has been faster than anticipated. Vancouver has already met the 2020 goal of foot, bicycle and public transit making up the majority of trips and the goal to reduce the average distance driven per resident by 20%. The city has also come two-thirds of the way towards a 50% increase of city-wide and neighbourhood food production. Over 50 draft priority actions have now been identified for the next phase of the plan for 2015-2020.

The Greenest City Plan

The Greenest City plan was launched from an already high baseline; according to the city council Vancouver had the smallest per capita carbon footprint of any city in North America. Vancouver already generated 93% of its electricity from hydroelectric power, and had worked for a long time with a modal shift and Transit Oriented Development by creating compact neighbourhoods with higher density (see also Vancouver).

In 2008, 55% of Vancouver’s emissions came from buildings, mainly heating by natural gas, 37% from transportation and 8% from emissions created at landfill from solid waste. As much as 39% of emissions reductions are projected to come from provincial regulations in British Columbia, including regulations on vehicle fuel efficiency and greening of the power supply. The rest include 24% from green buildings, 22% from green transportation, 11% from renewables, and 4% from zero waste. This means Vancouver´s work with green buildings and renewable sources for heating will be crucial.

Green buildings and district energy

Vancouver already had one of the greenest building codes in North America, awarded by The World Green Building Council in 2013 (see also Seattle). The city council is continuously improving on the building bylaw and its rezoning policy, including increasing the requirements for energy efficiency for new buildings and renovations, and has launched an Energy Retrofit Strategy. The targets are to require all new buildings from 2020 to be carbon neutral and reduce energy use in existing buildings by 20% (see also Brussels).

To reduce the use of natural gas for heating and hot water, Vancouver has launched investments in district energy through its Neighbourhood Energy Strategy, which will also deliver the 11% of emissions reductions from renewables by using sources such as sewage waste heat, energy recovered from unrecyclable waste, woodchip, or other biomass (see also Denmark).

The pilot project False Creek Neighbourhood Energy Utility began operation in 2010, providing heat and hot water for new buildings in Southeast False Creek, including the Olympic Village. Waste thermal energy captured from a City sewage pump station supplies the centre with 70% of its energy, reducing natural gas use to 30%, and achieving a 76% reduction of emissions compared to traditional heat sources.

Decentralized and flexible approach

Since then, Vancouver has laid out guidelines for energy centres, and started cooperation with a number of stakeholders. The city has laid out a longtime strategy that gives priority to conversion of existing steam heat systems to renewable sources and later promotes investments in new energy centres in high density areas. At least six more neighbourhood energy systems are planned. The biggest gains to 2020 will come from the conversion of the old Downtown steam system covering 210 buildings and two old hospital systems.

A key characteristic to Vancouver´s Neighbourhood Energy Strategy is its flexible approach in cooperation with stakeholders. Each target area has different sizes, energy demands, potential energy sources, ownerships, and regulations, and has required the city to develop a tailored approach, with a variety of regulatory and contractual tools, cost competitiveness measures and connection policy tools. Although there is a number of cities, especially in Scandinavia, with comprehensive district energy systems, Vancouver´s model can be very valuable for cities with little experience with district energy.



City of Vancouver, “Greenest City 2020 Action Plan – 2014-2015 Implementation Update”,

City of Vancouver, “Greenest City: A Renewable City”,

City of Vancouver, “Greenest City 2020 Action Plan”,

City of Vancouver, “Neighbourhood Energy Strategy”,

City of Vancouver, “Neighbourhood Energy Strategy: Downtown Update”,

C40 Cities, “Case Study: Reducing Carbon Emissions through District Energy”,

carbonn Climate Registry, City Climate Report: City of Vancouver,

Grist, “How did Vancouver get so green?”,

Text by: Martin Jacobson

Aerial view of Vancouver
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Map - Vancouver district energy (Urban solutions)
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