Q&A with City of Vancouver Green Buildings Team

The ZEB Retrofit Strategy was the focus of MCABC’s January 2021 Coffee Talk with the  City’s Green Buildings team. The following Q & A resulted from that discussion:

Q1: Will the new carbon pollution limits exclude hydrogen based thermal energy production?

A:  The carbon pollution limits will not prohibit any energy sources. The tool that buildings will use to report their annual energy and greenhouse gas emissions to the City will include the official BC government greenhouse gas emission factors for all energy sources. Building owners will be free to choose the type of equipment and fuel sources that make the most sense for their building to achieve the carbon pollution limit.

The City of Vancouver is not banning natural gas. It will be setting regulations that lead to a steady reduction in fossil-based natural gas usage over a period of 20 years. This reduction will take place through adoption of high efficiency electric equipment for space heat heating and hot water, such as heat pumps, increasing the efficiency of building envelopes (e.g. windows, insulation, draft proofing), and transitioning to renewable natural gas or hydrogen.

Q2: What will be the impact on local jobs and the HVAC sector if the existing building carbon pollution limits are enacted by Vancouver?

A: Due to the localized nature of HVAC trade work and building renovations, the local economic and job benefits, both direct and induced, would be significant: 1,200 new jobs and $2.3 billion net GDP impact in Vancouver from 2020-2040.

Q3: How does the City of Vancouver’s Neighbourhood Energy Utility (NEU) and its use of hybrid hot water heat pumps equate with the intent to have higher efficiency heat pumps? Currently, the City does not allow buildings within the NEU’s service territory to use building-scale heating equipment, only hot water service from their system.

A:  Vancouver’s Neighbourhood Energy Utility is currently the only low carbon district energy provider operating in the City. Through capturing waste heat from a sanitary sewer main, a free waste heat source is able to be transformed into useful thermal energy for connected buildings – which, as a result, have very low greenhouse gas emissions. By requiring buildings within the NEU’s service area to connect, it is ensuring more cost-effective delivery of this low-carbon energy source. For all other district energy systems in Vancouver, building owners have the option to use building-scale equipment, or connect to the district energy system.

Q4: What is the cost of ownership? 

A:  One of the key reasons for choosing a performance-based regulatory approach is to provide building owners and service providers with flexibility. Within the options available for each building there will be a range of ownership costs. A voluntary approach alone to reducing carbon pollution in buildings will not result in the level of action required to meet the commitments that have been made at the local, provincial and national level.

Q5: Will there be some form of rebate program to assist building owners to make this switch over from Fortis to BC Hydro?

A:  There are a number of incentives available from the BC government’s CleanBC program.

Q6:  Why not introduce a heat recovery program to transition from one type of system to another?

A: At a district scale, the City’s Neighbourhood Energy Utility is looking for waste heat loads that it can incorporate into their hot water loop. At a building scale, there are often opportunities for waste heat recovery in large buildings, especially where there is simultaneous heating and cooling demands, or where there are large process loads. Heat recovery chillers are very efficient at simultaneously producing chilled water for cooling and hot water for space heating.

l-fuel systems, that use both gas and heat pumps are also a very cost-effective solution that often result in large reductions in carbon pollution.

Q7: With a shift to electricity for thermal energy does the grid in Vancouver neighbourhoods have enough capacity? Along with home office, electric cars and air conditioning loads, the electricity usage will increase significantly.

A:  BC Hydro has been delivering electricity and improving its grid for 60 years.  As existing buildings gradually transition away from natural gas, the electrical grid will continue to improve to deliver the electricity needed in a zero-emission world. BC Hydro is projected to have a surplus of electricity at least until 2030 and the City will work closely with BC Hydro to minimize the need for grid improvements and at the same time, making the improvements that are required easier and less expensive to ensure the grid is ready for the increased demand from heat pumps and electric vehicles. 

Q8: For existing buildings that are ready for an upgrade to their heating system, but do not have the current electrical service to handle a heat pump over their current gas fired equipment… will they be able to upgrade with a mix of gas fired and heat pump equipment or will they eventually be mandated to upgrade their electrical service to handle heat pump equipment

A:  Dual-fuel systems will make sense in many applications for this reason, especially when the majority of the demand is met by the heat pump. Investment in a dual-fuel system in 2021 will allow in most cases a building to stay in compliance with future carbon pollution limits until the end of that equipment’s expected lifetime.

What’s next?

In 2021 City staff will be conducting additional analysis and stakeholder engagement regarding the carbon pollution limits and retrofit accelerator centres for commercial and multi-family buildings.  The City will continue to consult with mechanical contractors through MCABC sessions. The proposed 2025 regulations will be brought to City Council for approval in early 2022.

The federal government is developing national building regulations and is looking at the work that is being done in BC and Vancouver.  City staff is working closely with the BC government and Metro Vancouver on requirements for existing buildings and incentives and financial tools. This includes