Canada’s First Cogeneration Plant for Condo Buildings a Success

March 2018

As with most consumers, condo corporations rely on energy suppliers to provide the energy needed to keep buildings operational. In recent years there has been investigation into technologies that can produce some of this energy and thereby reduce the amount of energy that needs to be purchased.

Cogeneration is the simultaneous production of electric power and heat. With a cogeneration system, heat is no longer a waste product.  It is reused to keep a building warm during cold months or to provide hot water without purchasing external power to create this heat. Electricity created by the system can be used in place of electricity purchased from an electricity provider to power elevators and other equipment thus reducing the amount spent purchasing electricity. When electricity is purchased, it can be during off-peak hours at lower cost.

Canada’s first residential cogeneration building is now operational. Directors of Atrium II in Toronto sought a solution to rising electricity costs. A secondary consideration was sustained occupancy for residents during what they anticipate will be more frequent power outages. Cogeneration seemed to offer a complete solution.

Working with their engineering service provider, Atrium II obtained an affordable arrangement similar to what is available for major energy retrofit projects, requiring no capital investment. Atrium II took advantage of Ontario Save On Energy incentives which allow third-party contractors to take on the risk of these systems by owning and maintaining the equipment. Cost savings are shared over a ten year period after which all savings go to the condo corporation.

Atrium II required permission from Toronto Hydro to go “off the grid”. They received authorization to go 85 percent “off the grid” meaning they can generate up to 85 percent of their electricity needs independent of Toronto Hydro.

Establishment of a rooftop cogeneration plant included removal of cooling towers which became unnecessary after the corporation switched from water cooled chillers to air cooled chillers as a way to reduce water and electricity costs. Noise and vibration concerns were avoided by utilizing known suppression technologies. Minimal piping modifications were necessary to feed hot water from the cogeneration plant to the hot water system. Additional piping was installed in stairwells, from basement to roof, for safe transfer of chemicals required for the cogeneration plant.

Prelaunch tests realized a one month $28,000 savings in electricity costs and a $12,000 increase in gas costs. Full operation commenced November 1, 2017. Anticipated savings are more than $200,000 per year.

Cogeneration systems are efficient and provide numerous benefits. As electricity prices rise, cogeneration warrants a more serious look by condo corporations seeking to reduce their electricity costs.

Cogeneration can reduce but does not eliminate the need to purchase power.

Cogeneration is not economical in buildings with individual suite metering, or submetering, of electricity. Where it makes sense, cogeneration can reduce energy costs by 25 percent to 50 percent, and 85 percent savings are not uncommon. These savings can be directed to the reserve fund, internal projects or reducing condo fees.

In the event of a power failure, cogeneration can provide more power to a building for an extended period. Elevators, heating and cooling can continue without an external source of power.