Heating With Sewage: Vancouver System is Hot Sh*@t

[In the spirit of ushering out the old and showing in the new, this week I'm going to be putting up short posts on interesting stories that got lost in the shuffle during the end of 2010.]

In the lead up to Vancouver's 2010 Olympics, the strangest announcement was  that the Athletes' Village was going to be heated with sewage. Or heat recovered from sewage, to be precise. In the flurry of hype about gold medals and snow capped mountains, Vancouverites unexpectedly found themselves pondering "just how hot was that flush anyway? Head in the clouds one moments, mind in the gutter the next.

It turns out though, the city was on the money. After almost one year of operation, the system is running so well that it is now charging clients less than they would pay if they were heating with electricity bought from BC Hydro (the provincial electricity utility). You can find more details on the Vancouver system here and here, as well the one in Oslo that inspired it. (Note: in first link, the rates should read 8.7 cents per kWh for electricity, 8.4 cents for sewage heat.)

These types of systems are both cheaper and easier to install than geothermal heating. Also -- although it isn't a very inspiring thought -- large volumes of sewage may also be one of the few truly urban energy sources out there. Another interesting facet to the story is that Vancouver had originally hoped to have biomass generation as well, but residents objected due to air quality concerns. Sewage heat on the other hand may not be very glamorous, but it is also unlikely to rouse any public opposition.

There are only 4 of these systems in operation world wide. But if municipalities can make a profit while still charging consumers less than they pay for electricity, I'd guess that number is going to grow.

[While working in South Africa, I blogged about another approach the sewer pipe power.]


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This is a blog for news and views on the future of sustainable cites. A major revamp is in the works. Until then I am keeping this version up as an archive of my past writing.

You can expect occasional updates, but not with the same frequency as in the past.

You can also find my writing on urban redesign and sustainability in ReNew Canada, The Mark, Sustainable Cities Canada, WorldChanging, and other more specialized academic publications.

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