Thursday, February 11, 2010

London District Energy

The building carries the simple name "London District Energy." But there is a rich story behind the simple name. This is a company with roots going back 130 years to 1880 when Canada's first district heating system was born.

Centralized steam plants with giant boilers providing steam to nearby commercial buildings were very popular in most major North American cities at the beginning of the twentieth century. The steam plants bought fuel, coal, at a discount unavailable to individual building owners. The savings were passed onto the steam plant customers. 

The introduction of inexpensive natural gas, spelled the end of many of the centralized systems as customers installed their own individual gas-fired heating systems.

Today, as the world explores ways to reduce our environmental footprint and improve energy efficiencies, centralized systems like London's still thriving historic gem are leading the way into the 21st century.

Originally a family-owned business, Cities Heating was located right in the city core. Time took its toll and the aging steam supply facility outgrew its usefulness a little more than a decade ago. The business was sold and a company known as Trigen Energy Corp. replaced Cities Heating in 1996. The plant was moved to the corner of Bathurst and Colborne Streets and modernized.

The plant was sold again and is now under the guidance of Fort Chicago. It has benefited from $38-million of improvements, including a 15,000-square-foot expansion. Generating traditional steam and chilled water, electricity has been added to the mix. The plant has a total thermal generating capacity of about 100MW, producing approximately 245,000 lbs/hour of steam and 4,200 tons of chilled water and adding about 18 megawatts of electricity to the Ontario power grid.

Many buildings in London are both heated and cooled by London District Energy thanks to an extensive and still growing distribution system; A new pipeline will add St. Joseph's Health Care to a system already serving
The London Free Press, the London Convention Centre, Hilton London, Citi Plaza, City Hall and London Health Sciences Centre among many others.

Now you know why clouds of steam, especially in the cold of winter, are sometimes seen escaping from maintenance covers and road grates in London Ontario. A minor leak in the miles of underground piping can cause quite the cloud of water vapour.

And, if you are wondering what happened to the old Cities Heating Building, well, it sat derelict for years. In 2007 the London Ontario Live Arts Festival incorporated one wall of the building into a work of art. Currently, the building is being converted into apartments.

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