Creative Energy

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What's the solution to a livable, resilient and low carbon future?
You're living in it. Begin


“A report by the City of Vancouver said the biggest opportunity for reducing greenhouse gas emissions comes from converting existing steam heat systems”


“…people living in denser habitats typically have smaller energy footprints, require less infrastructure and consume less of the world’s resources per capita”

Cities work because they let people share cultural, social and physical infrastructure. Creative Energy is building on existing energy infrastructure in Vancouver to create flexible, low carbon community energy systems across the city.

Through providing cost-effective and reliable shared energy, we can help Vancouver reduce its emissions, increase resilience and create new jobs. Everyone can benefit from community energy.

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Why do we Live in Cities?

The earliest cities grew out of a need to create efficiencies. The development of agriculture made it possible, and desirable, for people to congregate in more permanent settlements in larger, denser groups, rather than living a more nomadic lifestyle.

Vijaya Nagara In around 1500 the Indian city of Vijaynagar had 500,000 inhabitants, probably making it the second largest city in the world after Peking-Beijing and twice the size of Paris back then.

Cities as Networks

When we started living together in towns and cities, we needed infrastructure to provide food and water, keep us warm, help us to meet and socialize, allow us to move around easily, and defend us against threats.

Cities developed around the needs of the people who lived in them, with social, energy and other networks at their heart. This sharing of resources, ideas, energy and systems has always been something people in cities do best.

Times Square subway station in New York City

One of life’s necessities is water, so ancient cities sprung up next to rivers. Another requirement for the earliest cities was defence, which led to walled cities and cities located in easier-to defend places. Other cities sprung up at coastal entry points to newly discovered continents.

Cities as Innovation Hubs

Over the centuries, we developed irrigation systems for agriculture to provide food, aqueducts and pipes for water, sewage systems for waste, ports and roads for transport, dykes for protection and community energy systems for heat.

An illustration depicting the Port of Shanghai in 1860
Today the Port of Shanghai is the world's busiest container port

In this way, cities have always been drivers of change. They became the beating hearts of civilizations and developed into centres of trade and commerce and hubs of invention and creativity.

Crowded Old Town square in Prague, Czech Republic

Recognizing their benefits, we’ve gone to huge lengths to build cities where we need them. We’ve balanced them on top of mountains, carved them out of cliffs, hidden them underground, and enclosed them within enormous walls.

Two kilometres of walls protect the city of Dubrovnik, Croatia
The ancient city of Mardin, Turkey was built on a strategic outcrop near the Tigris River

The Aqueduct of Segovia, Spain was built by the Romans and continued to provided water to the city until the mid 19th century
The Incan city of Machu Picchu was built 2,430 metres above sea level

As our cities have grown and matured, they have gone from places where we have to live to places where we want to live.

And as we’ve shaped cities to cater to the way we want to live our lives, we have all become city builders.

The Urbanized World

We are in the middle of the largest human migration in history as millions of people around the world move to cities for economic, social or lifestyle reasons.

More than 60% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2030. Over 80% of Canadians already live in cities - over 50% in our four largest of Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary.

of the worlds population will live in cities by 2030

of Canadians living in cities

in Canada's four largest cities

Rise of the Mega City

A megacity is city with over 10 million residents. The world’s first megacities were New York and Tokyo. Globally it is estimated there will be more than 30 mega cities of 10 million or more by 2025.

Challenges Facing Citites

City builders and residents have always faced challenges – from earthquakes and great fires to hurricanes and floods.

Now, cities need to make sure their infrastructure, including energy systems, is resilient enough to face new challenges presented by population growth, aging infrastructure, climate change and energy instability.

Dangerous wildfires burning in the hills of San Marcos, California due record high temperatures and low humidity
A house in Far Rockaway, New York lies in ruin after Hurricane Sandy devasted the Eastern Seaboard in 2012

The Importance of Infrastructure

As cities have grown rapidly, many have lost sight of the importance of shared infrastructure. Early city builders understood the advantages of sharing infrastructure; they invested in the energy, transportation, water and sanitation systems we all now all take for granted.

However, those systems are aging. We need new systems that are greener, more adaptable and more resilient.

Unfortunately, infrastructure is often out of sight and out of mind, until something goes wrong. For example, during the ice Storm in Toronto in 2013, critical transportation, water and energy networks failed. Only then did aging infrastructure become a serious talking point in the city.

In July of 2013, severe flooding affected large areas of Eastern Europe
Tree destruction during the 2013 ice storm in Toronto, Ontario

Other recent storms, floods and earthquakes have all demonstrated how much can go wrong, and how important infrastructure is to our physical and economic wellbeing.

Resilient infrastructure is part of every city’s natural defences.

Can Cities Really be Green?

On top of the many other benefits of cities, many people don’t realize that cities are also very efficient users of resources.

In 2011 Scientific American Magazine pointed out that large cities are some of the greenest places on the planet, consistently consuming less energy and resources per capita than rural or suburban areas.

And much of these individual energy savings come from sharing transport and other systems. Well-designed cities are one of the most innovative, productive and sustainable forms of development. And as cities grow and develop, they use vastly fewer resources per capita.

“…people living in denser habitats typically have smaller energy footprints, require less infrastructure and consume less of the world's resources per capita”
- Scientific American, September 2011

The question now is to how to make cities as a whole more efficient and less vulnerable.

The answer is to go back to what early city builders did and focus on infrastructure, particularly energy infrastructure.

What is Community Energy?

On top of the many other benefits of cities, many people don’t realize that cities are also very efficient users of resources.

These early city builders realized that sharing resources is the secret to successful, well-functioning cities.

Now, it could be the answer to the question of how to future-proof cities and make them greener and more resilient.

What is Community Energy?

A community energy system – also known as a district energy system – uses a central plant to generate the energy needed to heat a neighhbourhood or community. A network of pipes delivers heat to all of the buildings in the neighbourhood.

Community energy systems can service a few buildings or an entire neighbourhood. Basically, in a dense downtown community of 200 buildings, a community energy system means one central ‘boiler’ instead of 200 individual boilers. It does what cities do best – shares resources.

The new community energy system in South East False Creek, Vancouver

Why Community Energy?

  • Reduced C02 emissions
  • Lower energy costs
  • Energy source flexibility
  • Improved energy reliability and resilience
  • Green economy job creation
  • Reduce reliance on fossil fuels
  • Increased energy security
  • Easier system maintenance
  • Energy technology innovation

Alternative energy sources in a community energy system

  • Biomass
  • Solar
  • Surplus industry heat
  • Waste, eg. wood waste
  • Grey water

Benefits to Residents

Through community energy, building residents enjoy peace of mind, cleaner energy, lower costs and less maintenance. Repairs and servicing is managed centrally, and any risk to the energy system is reduced through it being shared between multiple buildings.

The flexibility of community energy also reduces residents’ exposure to future gas price fluctuations. If prices go through the roof a community energy system can switch to an alternative fuel source.

Benefits to Everyone

Community energy reduces greenhouse gas emissions and provides more flexibility and options. It’s also a much more reliable and robust system in the event of a natural disaster such as an earthquake hitting a city, providing the capability to power a central refuge – for example a stadium like BC Place (currently powered by Creative Energy).

BC Place on the north side of False Creek is powered by community energy

A community energy plant also allows the use of alternative, renewable, locally sourced fuels, which means not being tied to one energy source, including fossil fuels.

Back to the Future

Some community energy systems in Europe have operated continuously for over 900 years old. And many of the world’s greatest, most livable cities – from Seoul, Korea to Copenhagen, Denmark - have massive community energy systems.

Technologies and locations may change, but the basic platform is the same – a robust distribution network and central energy hubs capable of adapting to different fuel types.


2014 European Green Capital Copenhagen is a great example of an efficient district energy system that reduces both GHG emissions and costs for building residents and the community as a whole. Its co-energy system delivers heat and power by using different locally available fuels, including waste and biomass. Long term planning has enabled almost the entire city to be connected to the district energy system.

Copenhagen, Denmark is recognized as one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the world


The City of London created a standard for every new development to have 20% renewable energy. The developer of a new multi-building community built a small biomass plant that serves all of the buildings.

Westminster Bridge with the Houses of Parliament overlooking the Thames River in London, England


Munich is aiming to cut GHG emissions by 50% through a community heating system using renewable energy sources that power the whole city. One energy source is geothermal energy trapped from a huge underground reservoir of hot water in the area.



Vancouver's Southeast False Creek is a mixed-use planned neighbourhood with a community energy system that recovers waste heat from municipal sewage to supply about 70% of energy demand. The system produces 50% less GHG emissions than conventional energy sources.

Southeast False Creek, home to the 2010 Olympic Village

Saint Paul

Saint Paul in Minnesota benefits from the largest biomass-fired district energy system in North America. The city took old infrastructure - the existing steam heating system - and made it better, resulting in a cleaner, more flexible and cost-effective heating system.

The Minnesota State Capitol Building in Saint Paul, Minnesota

Shaping Vancouver

Vancouverism - not just for Vancouver

“Vancouverism” is a term within the architecture and urban planning world for the type of sustainable growth Vancouver is known for globally. It means mixed-use developments that maintain view corridors and create a downtown core where people live as well as work. It means building communities instead of just buildings, and creating sustainable density without sacrificing livability.

Reducing CO2 Emissions

In Vancouver, we're already doing well, but we could do better.

  • City
  • Copenhagen
  • Stockholm
  • Vancouver
  • Tokyo
  • London
  • New York
  • Metric tonnes CO2e per capita
  • 2.1
  • 4.0
  • 4.6
  • 5.1
  • 6.2
  • 6.4

Decisions that shaped Vancouver

Vancouver already has a worldwide reputation for livability, partly down to several legacy planning decisions, including Stanley Park, the Seawall, Granville Island, the decision not to build a highway into the city centre through Strathcona, and others.

Stanley Park

The spectacular 1,000 hectare park in the middle of the city is known as one of the world’s great urban parks. Instead of being developed for real estate, it has been protected as a space for everyone to enjoy, and is almost as densely forested today as it was in the 1800s.

The changing colours of autumn in Stanley Park

The Seawall

A public amenity that stretches 9km around Stanley Park and connects it to other areas of the city – as far as Kitsilano in Vancouver West. The Seawall has saved Vancouver’s waterfront for locals and visitors to enjoy, unlike many cities where the waterfront is made inaccessible by developments and roads.

The view of North Vancouver and the Lions Gate Bridge from The Seawall

Granville Island

An industrial area that is now a magnet for tourists and residents, and a cultural hub. As Vancouver developed, the decision was made to turn Granville Island into an area the whole city can enjoy, with particular emphasis on building a community of artisans.

Granville Island Public Market is home to over 100 vendors offering fresh seafood, meats and specialty foods.

Strathcona Highway

It’s not always city planners who make the right decisions; residents have a huge part to play. Vancouver is unusual for a North American city in not having a highway that pumps traffic into the downtown core and slices through neighbourhoods. We have the residents of Strathcona and surrounding areas to thank for that.

A residential street in the Strathcona neighbourhood

Greenest City Action Plan

Vancouver is well placed to act as a model for the green cities of the future – cities that create sustainable density without sacrificing livability. And it has a plan – the “Greenest City Action Plan” – to make Vancouver the greenest city in the world by 2020.

Greenest City Action Plan Objectives

  • More green jobs
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions
  • More green buildings
  • Increased green transportation
  • Zero waste
  • Improved access to nature
  • Lighter ecological footprint
  • Cleaner water
  • Energy technology innovation
  • Improved local food availability

The Next Big Decision - Community Energy?

The decision to switch to expand community energy networks in Vancouver and switch to alternative fuels could be as beneficial to current and future generations as all of these other decisions. Community energy is an important tool for transforming our energy infrastructure and making cities more sustainable. It’s an old platform, but one that can play an important role in cities of the future.

The Creative Energy Story

Creative Energy's story begins with a group of engineers on November 1, 1968, in a downtown Vancouver coffee shop.

They discussed the pollution and inefficiencies involved in heating buildings using fuel oil and coal. And they looked at ways to minimize the smoke, ash and heat being pumped into the air by the beehive burners used to dispose of wood waste.

They came up with a way to create a cleaner, more efficient and more cost-effective energy system for the downtown core. Central Heat Distribution was born, and Vancouver still benefits today from the foresight of its founders.

Aerial view of Vancouver in the 1960s

The Existing Infrastructure

Central Heat - now rebranded Creative Energy - is a community energy company serving over 200 buildings in Vancouver’s downtown core, including St. Paul’s Hospital, BC Place, Vancouver Public Library, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, and many office and condo towers in the downtown area.

When Central Heat was formed, many buildings used dirty fuel oil or inefficient gas boilers for heating. Central Heat produces steam using very efficient gas boilers at a central plant located at Beatty and Georgia Street next to BC Place. Steam is then distributed to individual buildings through a 14 km network of underground pipes.

Central Heat significantly improved local air quality in the downtown core and has provided competitive heating rates to connected buildings for over 40 years.

Expanding Existing Networks

Today, Central Heat's legacy represents one of the largest opportunities to reduce carbon emissions and develop local sources of energy in the city.

By expanding on Central Heat’s shared energy system and harnessing West Coast ingenuity and creativity, Creative Energy aims to put district energy at the heart of a well-functioning Vancouver.

1 Current Downtown Network
2 South False Creek Existing
3 West End Expansion Estimated 2015
4 South Downtown Expansion Estimated 2015
5 North East False Creek Expansion Estimated 2015
6 Downtown Eastside Expansion Estimated 2015
7 Chinatown Expansion Estimated 2015
1 Current Downtown Network
2 South False Creek Existing
3 West End Expansion
4 South Downtown Expansion
5 North East False Creek Expansion
6 Downtown Eastside Expansion
7 Chinatown Expansion

And by taking advantage of the flexibility of the community energy model and switching to alternative energy sources, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the downtown core by 80,000 tonnes a year - the equivalent of taking over 14,000 cars a year off Vancouver’s roads every year.

Simply put, we don’t have multiple road or sewage networks because there are just some things that are better delivered as shared infrastructure. Energy can be included in that list.

By the Numbers

  • 201 buildings on the existing Central Heat system
  • 1 plant needed to heat these buildings
  • 23 employees needed to maintain the system
  • 14km of distribution lines in place
  • 80,000 tonnes of GHG savings every year in this one area

Embracing "Gesamtkunstwerk"

“Gesamtkunstwerk” lies at the centre of Creative Energy’s approach. This German word means “total work of art” and in architecture it means building livable communities for everyone to enjoy rather than just buildings. In the context of city building, Gesamtkunstwerk is about well-functioning infrastructure systems as much as nice-looking buildings.

The Urbanized World What is Community Energy? Shaping Vancouver The Creative Energy Story
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