Achieving A Sustainable Future Together: The Future of District Energy for Achieving Carbon Reduction Goals
Tuesday, March 12, 2024
at 12:00 (Noon) Eastern
Vicinity Energy’s Philadelphia Operations
Along with 18 other networks in 11 other cities nationwide, Vicinity owns and operates the district energy system that serves Philadelphia’s Center City. The steam Vicinity delivers is used for heating, cooling, process, and sterilization—essential services to mission-critical customers, including all of the major Philadelphia hospitals.
In Philadelphia, Vicinity owns and operates the Grays Ferry Cogeneration Facility (Grays Ferry), located at 2600 Christian Street. Grays Ferry is the largest baseload Combined Heat and Power (CHP) – or cogeneration – plant in the Commonwealth. Through a network of over 41 miles of underground pipes, Vicinity transports recaptured waste heat from its 170 MW CHP plant to deliver low carbon steam to over 100 million square feet of commercial and institutional space – the equivalent of approximately 61 Comcast Towers – throughout Center City and West Philadelphia, including hospitals, universities, government, life sciences, and commercial buildings. The CHP-generated steam delivered to customers has significantly less carbon per unit of energy than onsite gas boilers or the electric grid.
The Grays Ferry Cogeneration facility is also a power plant and an essential piece of the electric system reliability in Eastern Pennsylvania. The facility is connected to the PJM Interconnection at a constrained portion of the grid, known as the Mid-Atlantic Area Electric Reliability Council region. Because of its location, this facility helps ensure consistent service to end-use customers in Center City and the neighborhoods of South Philadelphia. This “dispatchable” power generation asset is crucial to the proliferation of renewable non-dispatchable assets (i.e. wind and solar) and, along with energy storage, these assets must be present to provide power when renewables cannot.
In 2013, Vicinity completed a $60 million investment in its Philadelphia network, installing new rapid response boilers that more efficiently capture low carbon steam produced by cogeneration. These investments have improved the city’s critical energy infrastructure and, with Grays Ferry, avoid more than 300,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually, compared to conventional means of heating and cooling buildings. Over the years, Vicinity has invested a combined total of over $300 million in improving safety and reliability and reducing our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Through these significant investments and the flexibility of our existing assets, we’ve demonstrated that we well positioned to be a significant partner to the City of Philadelphia in reaching its Greenworks GHG reductions goals and the Pennsylvania Climate Action Plan.
Transitioning to Net Zero Carbon
In October of 2020, Vicinity released its 2 050 Net Zero Carbon Roadmap and, with this plan in place, Vicinity will make unique and vital contributions to the Commonwealth’s carbon reduction goals. As part
of Vicinity’s 2050 Net Zero Carbon Roadmap, the company has already taken drastic steps toward the decarbonization of its operations and a migration away from carbon emitting fuels. These efforts will have a dramatic impact on the carbon footprint of the 100 million square feet of space they serve today as well as the future buildings we connect to our system.
The backbone of Vicinity’s decarbonization plan is to electrify its operations by generating steam using electric boilers and heat pumps and procuring renewable electricity from the grid as our primary fuel source. (eSteamTM: h ttps://www.vicinityenergy.us/products-services/esteam). The electrification of individual buildings in Philadelphia will be an incredibly challenging and expensive task in the time frame required. By connecting to the district energy system, building owners will have the ability to successfully meet state and local regulations and have access to 100% renewable, carbon-free thermal energy.
Electric Boilers: Vicinity is developing a plan to install renewable (or zero carbon) powered electric boilers in the Grays Ferry plant, eventually eliminating natural gas as a fuel source. Electrifying Grays Ferry offers the City and Commonwealth a considerable opportunity to accelerate decarbonization. Commercial buildings are the second largest contributor to a region’s carbon footprint and Philadelphia is no exception. According to the United Nations’ 2020 Global Status Report For Buildings and Construction, buildings accounted for 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions globally in 2019. According to Philadelphia’s own Climate Action Playbook, buildings alone emit a whopping 75 percent of the city’s total carbon footprint—triple the total emissions from all modes of transportation. This is why there has been a policy focus in recent years to electrify existing buildings as an essential critical strategy for overall decarbonization. However, electrifying buildings (i.e., tearing out combustion fueled technologies such as onsite gas combustion boilers and chillers and replacing that infrastructure with electric technologies) on a building-by-building basis is very expensive, logistically challenging and takes a very long time. But an electrified Grays Ferry facility can convert all buildings on Vicinity’s system with the flip of a switch. Over time, Vicinity will have the ability to electrify one hundred million square feet of building space with no additional infrastructure costs to building owners.
Industrial-scale Heat Pumps: Vicinity has completed the preliminary design for a large industrial-scale heat pump complex at its Cambridge, MA, CHP facility. These heat pumps operate on the same principle as any residential heat pump, but on a massive, industrial scale. The industrial-scale heat pump complex will use the heat “lifted” from the Charles River to preheat the water and generate steam. This will be a first of its kind complex in North America and Vicinity has studied replicating this approach at Grays Ferry, extracting energy from the Schuylkill River. This would further significantly reduce Philadelphia’s carbon footprint in the near term by dramatically reducing the amount of hydrocarbon fuel consumption or by being an incredibly efficient use of imported renewable electricity.
Molten Salt/Silica Thermal Batteries: Vicinity is also studying the use of molten salt thermal batteries at its plant. Molten salt batteries are unique energy storage battery that uses molten salts as a conductor. Recent advances in silica based thermal batteries also provide an even higher capacity thermal energy storage device. This type of battery offers very high energy density (i.e., the amount of energy stored in any given system per unit of volume) and high-power density (i.e., the amount of power per unit of volume). Because of the size and materials involved, such batteries must be located in secure industrial facilities like the Grays Ferry facility and are not feasible in any commercial building.
With such a grid-scale battery, the Grays Ferry facility will become the largest battery storage facility in the region. This would allow for the efficient use of intermittent solar and wind power to generate steam, significantly reducing the demand from grid generation units, at times of highest demand.
Without peak shaving, the grid authority must call up or dispatch extremely carbon-intensive generating assets that are usually dormant. Avoiding having to fire up these generating units significantly reduces overall grid carbon emissions.
Matt O’Malley, Chief Sustainability Office – As the company’s first-ever Chief Sustainability Officer, Matt is responsible for leading the company’s decarbonization efforts and guiding the execution of V icinity’s Clean Energy Future, Net Zero Carbon plan. Reporting to President and Chief Executive Officer Bill DiCroce, Matt officially joined the company in January 2022, following his term on the Boston City Council as President Pro Tempore.
Serving on the Boston City Council for the past 11 years, Matt passed aggressive environmental initiatives, including setting bold net zero carbon building standards, delivering community choice energy, eliminating gas leaks and single-use plastic bags, and diverting organics from landfills through curbside composting in the City of Boston. He also authored both the Building Energy Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO) and the Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO 2.0).
As an environmental expert and advocate, Matt holds over 18 years of focused and visionary leadership in the public, private, and issue advocacy arenas. Matt earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and English at The George Washington University. He serves on the Charles H. Farnsworth Housing Corporation board, is a Trustee of the Boston Latin School Association, and has served on the Edward Ingersoll Browne Fund. He has also raised money as a member of Boston Marathon teams for Habitat for Humanity Greater Boston, Project Hope, and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
Jeannie Morris, VP of Government Affairs – Jeannie joined Vicinity in October of 2021 where she serves as Vice President of Government Affairs, responsible for leading the company’s government and industry relations strategy, including policy alignment with Vicinity’s Net Zero Carbon plan. Jeannie represents the legislative positions and policies of Vicinity before the Executive and Legislative branches of the local and state governments for Vicinity’s 19 district energy networks nationwide.
Prior to joining Vicinity, Jeannie was a Senior Manager for State Government Affairs for Exelon Generation/Constellation. Jeannie began her career in the legislative office of Pennsylvania State Senator Connie Williams and has worked as a government affairs representative for Public Affairs Strategies and Aqua America.
In her spare time, Jeannie has taught courses in American National Government at Montgomery County Community College. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary. Jeannie received a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Texas A&M University – Commerce and Master of Arts in Political Science from Villanova University.
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March 12, 2024
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm