Two award-winning construction firms are helping the city of Surrey take a significant stride toward its objective of building Canada’s largest district energy heating system with their work on the West Village District Energy Centre and Park project. The new energy centre will serve as the backbone of the city’s envisioned system serving thousands of residents in the downtown residential and commercial core.
The two construction companies capturing Vancouver Regional Construction Association Silver Awards of Excellence are ESC Automation in the trade category for projects up to $1 million (Chairman’s Trade Award) and Trotter & Morton Building Technologies Inc. in the category of mechanical contracts on a project valued at $3 million to $9 million.
The West Village Energy Centre, located at 13231 Central Ave, is the city’s first permanent energy centre and serves a new developing area in the city’s downtown core area. The West Village district energy system interfaces indirectly via heat exchangers with new high-rises that are situated in the area and provide building space heating and domestic hot water systems. The West Village project follows the district energy system built under the Surrey City Hall building and plaza. That system utilizes a geothermal source of heat.
“There were challenges but I loved working on this project,” said Trotter & Morton’s project manager Michael Lee, as mechanical is usually not a project focal point. “Mechanical in this project was in the forefront and so it was a great project to work on.”
Lee said these district energy systems are a new direction that municipalities and institutions such as universities are moving toward, but the difference today is that they utilize hot water, rather than steam found in older systems.
This is the third B.C. energy system that Trotter & Morton has installed, with the others at the universities of British Columbia and Victoria, said Lee. (The company is currently working on a fourth at Vancouver International Airport). As a result, the company came into a project that had challenges but with a solid foundation of expertise to mitigate them.
The new energy centre’s main challenge was timing; it had to provide service to several residential high rises emerging out of the ground nearby. “The plant had to be ready in time for the buildings,” Lee said.
“There were three new buildings under construction at that time,” said Jason Owen, the Surrey Energy Centre’s district energy manager noting that other existing high-rises were being serviced by a temporary energy centre which had limited capacity. The new centre was needed to accommodate the residential building expansion.
“There are now 12 buildings (using hot water from the centre) and we expect another 10 in five years,” Owen said.
The new facility uses high-efficiency boilers that utilize 80 per cent natural gas and 20 per cent renewable biogas obtained from Surrey’s bio-fuel facility that converts food scraps and yard waste. Over the next 10 to 15 years, Owen estimates that up to 50 buildings will be integrated into a downtown energy grid which is comprised of the geothermal now used in the city hall and plaza system plus yet-to-be built new centres utilizing biomass, waste-heat recovery from buildings and sewer heat recovery systems.
As well as being pressed with deadline concerns for completion of the $6.48 million project over an 18-month period, Lee also faced logistics problem. The large components for the boilers and associated large pipes had to be placed inside the building prior to the general contractor’s schedule to roof in the structure. Three large boilers were below grade along with large sections of pipe (both 14-inch and 18-inch pipe) weighing thousands of pounds. They would all have to be craned in over the construction of the building.
“It involved a high level of coordination. We had to coordinate all our deliveries with Scott,” he said, referring to general contractor Scott Construction. “They were great to work with and we could not otherwise have achieved what we did without that level of coordination.”
In order to meet the schedule, Trotter & Morton had 20 men working on the project but it had done its homework by using BIM software to model the project and determine what components could be prefabricated and partially assembled off site. “We did approximately 60 to 70 per cent off-site and brought the big pieces in and welded them on site,” he said.
Scott was charged with centre’s construction while Trotter & Morton took charge of the construction of the boilers, pipes, associated equipment, the mechanical pumps, and heat exchangers as well the assembly of the underground pipe for the district pumping system that involved a main outflow line and return line (to the property line). While the project kicked off in July 2017, the underground work was carried out during the freezing winter months.
Despite the challenges, Trotter & Morton’s project came in on budget and through the use of value-engineering and innovations benefits such as silencers for the breeching on the boilers, the use of BIM for clash detection and efficiencies through prefabrication were achieved.
One of the needs of a district heating system supplying a building network is the ability of the highrises to communicate supply and demand needs. ESC Automation was instrumental in providing the control systems on the remote buildings and the central energy plant. The system allows the buildings to communicate the required BTUs metered within the buildings so that the central energy plant can meet those needs.
“We installed the PLCs (programmable logic controllers at the central energy plant), which is something we don’t normally do,” said Steve Egglestone, project manager for ESC Automation. (PLCs are used to control the heating equipment based upon supply and demand). The company also installed the BACnet system (a communications protocol for building automation control networks). The system allows the buildings to communicate their hot water needs to the centre.
What sets the project apart is that normally these two systems would need an interface box to communicate. Egglestone said ESC Automation was able to eliminate that interface box, which is a gateway modifying protocol exchanges between the centre and the buildings. Since ESC Automation installed the PLC systems, the company’s programmer was able to go into the PLC system and modify the codes so that the buildings could communicate directly with the centre. Eggleston said this feature is something he hopes to use in other installations as it is a positive feature for clients.
“It simplifies the process,” he said. “When you can simplify the process, there are fewer things to maintain and less to go wrong.”
ESC Automation solutions are found in P3 projects like the Royal Jubilee Hospital, the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre, and the LEED Gold certified Kwantlen University and U.B.C. Earth and Pharmaceutical Sciences buildings.