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Modernizing Ottawa’s District Energy System

The Government of Canada is taking steps to rehabilitate and green its heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region.

The federal government has partnered with Innovate Energy through a public-private-partnership model to modernize the district energy system (DES).

What is a district energy system and what does the National Capital Region’s system comprise of?

A district energy system is made up of central plants that heat buildings with hot water or steam and cool buildings with chilled water. The water circulates through underground pipes connected in a loop. This process uses less energy and is more efficient than having equipment in each individual building.

District energy systems are used around the world. According to the United Nations’ Energy Program, modern district energy systems in cities “is one of the least-cost and most efficient solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and primary energy demand”.

The district energy system in the National Capital Region (NCR) heats 80 buildings and chills 67 buildings, including the Parliament Buildings. It is comprised of five central heating and cooling plants and four distribution networks. They deliver steam and high temperature hot water and cooling water through a combination of service tunnels, direct buried piping, and bridge crossings. Two existing plants will be renovated to accommodate the modernized equipment; two new plants will be built; and one plant will be decommissioned.

illustration of a district heating system
Illustration of a district heating system
Illustration of a district cooling system


Signature elements of the project include:

  • Making the existing heating system safer and more energy efficient by converting it from steam and high temperature hot water to low temperature hot water;
  • Building and decommissioning plants;
  • Upgrading existing facilities in Ottawa and Gatineau, including the Cliff plant near the Parliament Buildings;
  • Switching from steam to electric chillers;
  • Integrating digital solutions tools for monitoring and improving performance;
  • Implementing block-chain technology.
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