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Geothermal retrofit in Vancouver is the first of its kind anywhere

Russell Hixson
Geothermal retrofit in Vancouver is the first of its kind anywhere

Workers are drilling hundreds of feet into the earth in downtown Vancouver for one of the world’s most unique geothermal projects.

"Basically we are building a rechargeable battery under the building, " said Adrian Ryan, senior vice president of engineering for Fēnix Energy.

The $2 million project at Cadillac Fairview’s 777 Dunsmuir Street property is being converted.

The structure will use a geo-exchange system, rather than steam, for heating and cooling.

Workers must drill 30 boreholes 400 feet into the earth.

There were challenges to  working in the compact urban environment.

Fēnix had to develop new drilling technology.

Ryan said workers use a rotary mud solution and a close looped system in a compact machine to conduct the drilling in the parking garage underneath the building.

Crews only take up a handful of parking spaces, and the compact drilling and cyclone technology keeps the area clean.

"The goal was to minimize the invasive nature," he said.

After around six months, the project should be complete.

Ryan said he expects it to save the structure 65 per cent on its energy costs.

He explained that most geothermal building projects are on brand new buildings and this project is one of the first geothermal retrofits in a major downtown centre.

The system works by harvesting a building’s rejected heat and storing it underground until it is needed.

Until now, geo-exchange systems have primarily been installed in new projects or projects where land is readily available adjacent to a building.

Projects with small footprints in operating buildings, such as the one at 777 Dunsmuir, had remained elusive.

Fēnix Energy’s system enables the installation of vertical rather than horizontal piping underground.

"Essentially you are twinning buildings with complimentary load profiles," Ryan said.

The buildings can then exchange excess energy rather than have it go to waste into the atmosphere.

Ryan said the benefits of the technology have caught the eye of utilities like FortisBC, which have begun investing in Vancouver geothermal infrastructure.

"We see it as an environmental project," said Jesse Gregson, senior operations  manager for Cadillac Fairview.

He said the retrofit, which is roughly halfway complete, will reduce thermal emissions by 85 per cent.

Cadillac Fairview will see how the technology performs before considering in other buildings.

It’s part of the company’s Green at Work program, which encourages environmental sustainability.

"We are very excited about the project. It is very innovative and significant for us," Gregson said.

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