Clean Energy Synopsis

By Stephen Hynes

Hynes Developments has 14 years of experience working to create buildings that maximize energy efficiency through the use of alternative heating sources and the reuse of waste heat, pioneering a system of creative co-location of complimentary uses. Our first efforts in this regard were an effort at local scale alignment of net heat producers and net heat consumers to achieve an operational heat equilibrium, in which heating requirements are met through the reuse of heat from commercial and industrial operations. The direction of heat transfer is generally towards residential use.

Hynes Developments undertook an experimental project in an 80,000 ft2 development in Vancouver. Completed in 2001, The Waterfall Building, designed by Arthur Erickson and Stephen Hynes, has won a wide variety of awards, including the Lieutenant Governor's Gold Medal in Architecture. The Waterfall installation comprises mono temperature hydronic distribution directly connected to heat pumps that provide space air conditioning in commercial areas, and radiant floor heating in the live/work areas. The operating temperature of the loop is 110 degrees.

The primary heat source is two natural gas boilers with a conventional fan driven water based cooling tower. Heat pump air conditioning is provided to all air conditioned space with heat output transferred to the mono temperature loop. The secondary heat source is a 350KW server co-location facility, which is air conditioned with heat pumps with the heat transferred to the mono temperature loop.

Hynes Developments has maintained ownership and operation of the system and has undertaken ongoing evaluation of the system since its inception. This has provided us a working understanding of the wide range of issues associated with energy complimentarity and the experience to scale up.

Issues of Scale

The potential efficiency of complimentary energy systems is improved with increasing scale. Larger systems provide more opportunities for a diversity of functions and the broad development of management protocols and systems that maximize the efficiency of operations. Larger systems can also take better advantage of co-location with large industrial heat production, and they can afford the higher capital cost of longer runs of fluid piping that might be required to reach such sources. And the larger heat providers may themselves be more viable. A large server room, for example, has a greater depth of operational support than a small server room. It can afford more and more advanced redundancies. It will appeal to large clients, who may quickly outgrow a smaller server room, and will provide the calibre of support required by more sophisticated clients, such as 24 hour live monitoring on site.

The capture of industrial heat can be seen as a cost savings to industrial users, which may otherwise require costly cooling tower operations. The industrial uses often provide waste heat as a free output, which means that the cost of heat generation is off-loaded to the heat generating industry.

Other advantages of larger scale include the ability to provide dedicated management expertise and support, which can create substantial efficiencies in a local area utility. Again, inthe case of a server room, the same systems that cool the computers provide heat for the utility. The buildings that the system provides heat for are, in effect, the radiators of the server room cooling system, and server room cooling is absolutely essential to the business. This provides a strong incentive to organize system support and maintenance around the server room client, both because it needs control of the system and because it vests operational control in the entity with the greatest self-interest in ensuring operational continuity. This has the potential advantage of further subsidizing the operational costs of the local area utility.

The development of a complimentary energy system requires the juxtaposition either directly or through a layered grid of real complimentary uses. An ad hoc combination of uses that appear to provide appropriate offsets and sum to zero is unlikely to succeed. In this regard, the size and nature of the grid and the depth of its layers are primary considerations in assessing the potential to achieve real and sustainable complimentary offsets.

Much more is involved than simply creating functional blocks. Each block needs to be built and managed independently. The incorporation of a server room heat source must be a full scale, stand alone business unit. The fact that it serves as an element in a complimentary energy system will not be regarded by IT professionals or their clients as any kind of advantage. In fact, perversely, it is looked upon with suspicion as introducing a variety of externalities that appear to be beyond the control of the facility operator, points of failure that competing facilities do not have. To be successful, there must be no demonstrable weaknesses in relation to competing facilities, and the fact that it is associated with a complimentary energy system is a hurdle to overcome. It must be built as a class A server facility, and be clearly seen to meet the standard in every regard.

Similar issues exist for most complimentary uses. Refrigeration plants require accessibility, access to distribution and high reliability cooling, and other industrial uses have similar infrastructure requirements. Commercial use requires high reliability power, hvac and communications. And every user group views itself and its needs in isolation, and views its requirements in relation to their independent provision through normal channels. Infrastructure failure is viewed as a costly risk that any unconventional approach magnifies.

Current Project:

Understanding these issues of scale and reliability, Hynes has developed the concept of a local area utility in Seylynn Village, a large mixed use residential project in the District of North Vancouver. The initial project represents 800,000 ft2 in residential, live/work and commercial area, the first of an anticipated six phases. The project represents the initial catchment for the local area utility, which was founded on the idea of capturing waste heat from the collocation of a large computer server facility within the development. The original intent was to equilibrate heat production and use through the collocation of a variety of commercial, industrial and residential uses. In this project the primary heat source was originally intended to be a large scale computer facility with output heat concentrated to fully required output temperature using high technology heat pumps sourced from Trak International in Kelowna, British Columbia. No secondary heat production was contemplated, with all heat provided by the waste heat generated from commercial uses and the server room.

Project Development:

As we have developed system design concepts, it has become increasingly clear that what was originally conceived as a plug in solution to secondary heat recovery and reuse was only the beginning of the development of a much more versatile and capable system. Using the server room as a sole heat source created a situation where a tremendous amount of heat was wasted when it wasn't required. Although it is a far superior result to simply wasting the heat, it is not an optimal solution, in part because the server room application is by its nature a continuous load, and cannot be throttled in relation to overall demand. Much of its heat is wasted through most of the year, a consequence of the fact that the facility provides for all heat requirements and must be able to meet maximum demand. At a practical level, this is tantamount to sizing a conventional boiler heat source and then operating it at full level year round, and operating a cooling tower to moderate output when maximum heat is not required.

To maximize efficiency it became clear that additional complimentarities and an increasing sophistication of the layered grid concept were required. We wanted to find a system that could meet the polar requirements of providing the highest overall system efficiency on both the hottest and coldest days of the year. To do this we needed to find uses for heat that were either selectively substitutional, such as providing low grade heat to industrial processes in the summer months, or uses that naturally offset the heat requirements of the village.

Our next step was to undertake a functional block anaylsis and look at the relationships between a variety of different systems and how these systems can be collectively managed to provide for all of the heat requirements of the community using secondary sources and to do so using the lowest overall amount of energy possible, and to create a system that responds to seasonal and daily variations in climate as well as variations of input availability and cost. This lead to an analysis of the relationship of the modes of consumption and production in which we looked at patterns of variability, including co-variable offsets, selective offsets and non variable elements. These are the functional blocks, and our task is to find ways of balancing these blocks that creates the greatest possible overall system efficiency. In this, we regard the traditional "grid" as a functional block, with both variable supply and demand conditions, against which other conditions must be continuously balanced.


Definition: Functional blocks are identifiable units of consumption and production. The blocks fit into contexts, defined by geography, population density, availability of resources and a variety of grid conditions. Each block serves a role in relation to the overall context that may not in itself be transferable to a different location, but the overall concept of block analysis and balance can be widely applied.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells

The original concept of incorporating hydrogen as a local area utility energy source was developed by Geoff Ballard, founder of Ballard Power and Stephen Hynes of Hynes Developments almost five years ago. The location of two large hydrogen generating industries, ERCO and Canexus, within a kilometre of the development site presented a unique opportunity. Because hydrogen is a difficult commodity to transport, the proximity to these production sites is an important aspect in using it in an energy balance system. When operated in a combined heat and power configuration, the efficiency of such systems approaches 100% of the available input energy. However, the PEM technology in use at the time by both Ballard Power and General Hydrogen was optimized in both size and design for transport use, and larger static cells had comparatively high maintenance requirements and were very expensive. They were considering new fuel cell types and configurations for the application, but the untimely death of Mr. Ballard left the idea in abeyance.

Ballard Power has recently undertaken in Vancouver the design and production of large, modular PEM fuel cell systems that would be appropriate to use in a combined heat and power configuration in a local area utility. The systems are designed to support in service maintenance cycles with core refit intervals of greater than 10,000 hours. A 1 megawatt system produces 1.3 megawatts of heat. The systems operate almost silently and offer instant start and fast heat and its output can be throttled to demand conditions. It is ideal for power back up and peak shaving applications. This works particularly well functionally because peak shaving creates power and heat when the demand for both are at a maximum. It also provides system versatility and resiliency in peak demand management, fuel switching and redundancy.

We believe it is a highly worthwhile endeavour to evaluate the Ballard modular PEM hydrogen fuel cell in a combined heat and power configuration in a local area utility. The cost of the system is high in relation to competing CHP systems, but the long term local availability of hydrogen in the current context makes this a compelling functional block.

Diesel electric power

Diesel electric is the cheapest way to provide back up power to industrial operations. Every server colocation facility we know of uses this form of back up power. And that is their sole purpose. They are never connected to the grid, never used for anything but emergency grid power substitution and the considerable heat they generate is never collected. They often present a huge cooling challenge, requiring vastly upsized cooling towers to handle their heat output. It is possible to use diesel electric generators in a combined heat and power system, but the diesel generators are not well suited to continuous operation. They are huge, heavy and very loud, creating powerful vibrations wherever they are mounted, and requiring significant maintenance in ongoing operations. Intermittent, unpredictable use also means that the heat output of such systems can not be effectively harnessed, as there is no way to offset it against other requirements.

While the wide deployment and well established operational record of diesel electric generation would suggest that a closer study of their inclusion in a local area utility is warranted, we believe that a broader view of establishing overall system redundancy and extremely high reliability is more important. Replacing traditional concepts of independence and redundancy in essentially random, non-system elements with fully planned system deployments is an important step forward in energy balance and system efficiency. We have therefore excluded consideration of this mode of generation.


Biomass power generation can take several forms. The type we are considering is a biological digester that can ingest materials ranging from domestic sewage to waste wood fibre, virtually any form of biodegradable waste. Waste products are digested in a process that creates a usable flammable gas with an energy potential roughly equivalent to natural gas, and the use of biogas in a combined heat and power generation configuration can provide an excellent source for fuel substitution and peak shaving operations.

Context is critical in biomass generation. Continuity of waste supply is a primary consideration. Local delivery of the product is also an advantage. And a location in which the facility is an acceptable distance from anyone who might object to the remote potential of odour or pollutants being generated is important. The combination of these requirements compromises most locations.
Seylynn Village presents a rare example in which all conditions are met. The immediate proximity of the port provides a reliable supply of raw materials. The close location of Seylynn Village provides a ready and accessible market. And the surrounding industrial areas mitigate any perceived impact of the generation process. These factors, coupled with the throttlable, demand based nature of biomass energy production makes the exploration of such a facility in a layered local area utility demonstration very important.

Heat Load

The requirement for heat presented by the community (the heat load) varies widely according to diurnal, annual and periodic variations. Meeting the heat load is the primary reason for the existence of the local area utility. Meeting this load with heat energy generated by other processes is far more efficient than meeting it directly with primary energy. The overall objective is understanding the profile and variability of the heat load and designing the system to accommodate this variability so as to meet the heat load with the lowest possible total energy use.

Geo-Exchange Radiant Field

In our original concept we used a cooling tower exclusively to moderate the heat output of the overall local area utility. Given the sizing requirements with respect to maximum possible energy demand and the steady state nature of the server room source, the tower would operate in cooling mode most of the time. This would result in a waste of excess heat most of the time. Introducing a method of heat storage significantly reduced the energy loss of heat rejection and allowed the sizing of the server room source (or any collection of sources) to be reduced from maximum heat load requirements, as stored heat can be called upon when generated heat is insufficient.

The provision of this form of "capacitance" is the primary role of the closed loop geo-exchange field as a functional block in our local area utility. Unused heat energy is radiated into the underground loop, raising field temperatures and increasing the efficiency of reverse cycle heat re-capture.

The replacement of standard water based cooling towers with radiant field cooling has several further advantages. The efficiency of cooling towers declines with load, as additional stages are activated. They use a great deal of water, with significant evaporative loss, and power to achieve a relatively small temperature differential.

As additional functional blocks are added the requirement for a radiant field is minimized but not eliminated.

Natural Gas Turbine Cogeneration

Natural gas turbine cogeneration systems comprise small turbine driven electrical generators generally sized between 300KW and 1MW. The systems are highly reliable, throttlable, easily operate in a combined heat and power configuration with high grade heat output, and represent a low capital cost in relation to both available power and maintenance cycles. Turbines can burn a wide variety of fuel, which accommodates fuel switching based on price and availability. And fast start up and low maintenance requirements make these systems ideal for peak shaving operation.

Solar Thermal

An entirely passive and inexpensive way of heating water with sunshine. Deployed in a conventional sense, with panels set at efficient angles to the sun, this type of system can create significant energy. In a high density built environment, less surface area is available in relation to the heating demand. An unconventional approach could be used. We are considering the deployment of a collector system in the roadways and walking areas in Seynlynn village and the connecting areas, such as a half kilometre walking path to the largest bus exchange on the North Shore, which the development will be responsible for building. This kind of surface area multiplication could provide for a significant proportion, if not all of the heat requirements on hot days.

A further advantage of such systems is that they can run in reverse mode and serve as snow melt when required. This function can be used to balance heat load and can be evaluated in efficiency and environmental impact against other snow removal methods, further expanding the reach of the concept of overall energy balance in a local area utility.


The grid represents a large scale aggregator of electrical power. It operates most efficiently as a steady state provider because many of the sources are difficult and often expensive to throttle. Peak offset steam power generation is increasingly wasteful with shorter durations and lower peak requirements. The need to fire up and operates a 60MW steam plant when only a portion of the power is required is a symptom of overall system inelasticity. A great deal of energy is lost in set up and shut down. And such peak plants are rarely located in areas where the heat energy they generate can serve a useful purpose, so an enormous amount of energy is simply wasted.

Anything that requires the grid to accommodate varying loads compromises both economic and technical efficiency. Plastic loads that can be varied in accordance with grid requirements can serve to significantly reduce load variation and increase grid efficiency. Our intention is to take on these load changes ourselves. Moreover, widely plastic loads can compensate for non plastic variation on other portions of the grid. We are looking at an energy balance concept that extends beyond the area we are managing. The higher degree of plasticity that we create, the more responsive it can be to a wide range of external conditions.

The grid serves both as a unit of consumption and production, alternating between the two under differing conditions of load demand. At peak demand, the grid would prefer to receive power or reduce load rather than provide it. It is therefore best treated as a functional block in and energy balancing local area utility.

Absorption Chiller

A chiller uses heat to create chilling. It does so by using a heat source in lieu of a pump in driving a refrigeration cycle. While it is less efficient than pump driven systems, and it faces the dual burden of radiating both the heat that drives it as well as the heat from its cooling operation, it can be readily operated by a variety of grades of waste heat. And it still provides a useful low grade heat output. This induces a further degree of plasticity to our system allowing the creation of waste heat even when we do not have any use for this waste heat. It extends the envelope.


As we have examined the wide range of functional blocks and the potential relationships between them, we have come to understand that the role of a local area utility is considerably more sophisticated than we originally thought. The role is not simply to find a way of generating local power heat requirements, nor is it to find a specific channel to reuse waste product from particular waste processes, although both of these functions are necessary. In a broader vision, we believe the role of the local area utility to be that of aggregate balancer of supply and demand for all forms of energy used in a community. And we believe that the broader the base of available energy sources and uses, the greater the overall energy efficiency of the system. So we have moved in concept from a juxtaposition of functional use to an alignment of functional blocks.


The overall intent is to minimize heat rejection through the deployment of multi modal generation and creative alternative use of functional blocks. And by developing new functional blocks, we are creating both new sources and uses of waste heat. The advantage of minimal waste heat rejection is that it inherently defines maximum efficiency, minimizes the cost of a development mode such as a geo-exchange field, minimizes the size and impact on the overall development and reduces the demand for all system capacities. But the achievement of this balance requires sensitive measurement and management coupled with a sophisticated system response to wide variations in input pricing and availability.

A portion of our program will be to develop a theoretical model that calculates optimal system response to widely varying input parameters. Our intent is to assign a theoretical range of variation to each functional block and create a multi variant analytical framework that allows for the free variability within each block and determines overall system operational posture through the changing variables. The next step is to build the system, invoke the management method and test the theoretical model against achievable results to determine the highest practically achievable level of efficiency.


A key concept in the understanding of maximum achievable efficiency in a local area utility is that of complimentarily available through overlapping grids. In this respect we identity the traditional power grid as well as the continental fibre optic grid as well as the local fluid distribution grid and the chemical energy grid (natural gas and other sources). Each grid is traditionally looked upon in complete isolation, performing its quiet function without any clearly defined connection to the other grids. The traditional view does not allow for the high efficiencies that can be available in optimizing the location of services that draw from one grid and feed another. The example of a computer server facility providing processing power at a remote distance from its user base. This is made possible by the conjunction of the electrical grid and the continental fibre optic grid allowing the localization of heat produces data centre operations in geographic regions where waste heat represents a viable resource and producing a clear competitive advantage for data centre operations that are so located.

Another example of overlapping grids is the use of hydrogen fuel cells for the provision of electricity and heat through the local area utility. Hydrogen fuel cells return approximately 45% of the electricity, the remaining energy is converted to heat. In many applications, the waste heat is rejected. This makes hydrogen fuel cells a relatively expensive and inefficient energy course. However the overlap of the electrical grid and the local area utility fluid grid allow the heat produced by the hydrogen fuel cell to be captured and distributed to meet the overall heat demand of the utility.

As the number of layers increase, the potential connections and opportunities for increased efficiency between them multiply. An analytical orientation in understanding the utility function in terms of the layered grid framework provides a very rich way of looking at the potential opportunities for efficient energy use and reuse.

Thinking beyond the normal geographic boundaries of building, subdivision, city or country provokes new ways of thinking about supply and demand and inspires broader concepts of community.


The highly layered analytical framework coupled with the highly layered grid infrastructure provides the widest possible versatility in matching changing environmental requirements to changing supply conditions as well as provides the largest creative compass for future engineering projects.


Maximum Efficiency - Our energy system creates the most efficient utilization of energy possible balancing industrial consumption, commercial and residential use in a highly progressive and aggressively managed environment. We project efficiency benefits of as much as 100% with respect to the cost of heat provision.

Free substitution of energy - The layered approach allows a free substitution between first order energy supplies and a wide variety of alternative and energy reuse. This allows us to select energy sources that have lower environmental consequences. This substitution allows us to select between source according to availability and price. For example with the current block arrangement proposed allows heat to be derived from biogas or natural gas turbine cogeneration hydrogen fuel cell, server room GeoExchange, waster heat from absorption chiller, photo voltaic and internal heat transfer, allowing additional sources and users to be easily added.

Reduced emissions - Overall reduction of emissions plus the possibility of aggressively managing of system profile to minimize emissions as opposed to efficiency at times when this may be important. Our energy system allows for the ability to manage for minimum emissions as well as the ability to incrementally change loads in such as way that the larger gird be used to minimized emissions and maximize efficiency.

High efficiency infrastructure - Replace a range of inefficient stand alone systems with highly efficient grid systems, such as the inefficient cooling systems that are normally associated with low grade heat uses such as the server facilities, reducing load, cost, and water use.

Local responsibility for use and output - both use, generation and their management are all located within the community creating direct and local responsibility.

Adding resilience to infrastructure - With a wide range of potential energy sources, the multi-layered local area utility can accommodate by its nature supply and shut downs (grid failures) and continue to work as normal during periods of disruption such as grid shut downs.

Local business development - Provision of a wide range of local employment that is coupled with local residential opportunities eliminating for many the requirement for daily commuting to the workplace. A characteristic that is enhanced by the local presence of high standard of utility grade infrastructure such of that is provided by a class A server room or the operations of an overall moderate scale utility. For example, the server room will attract a wide variety of client sin both the residential and commercial spaces which would have no other particular reasons to be there.

Selective Optimization

The central idea of the layered utility concept is performing the most work with the least energy. But a highly layered, versatile grid can be tuned to optimize or minimize a variety of characteristics or outputs. For example, on days of high pollution, the system could prioritize

Possibility of Latitudinal Optimization

The potential exists that the most efficient organization of functional blocks will take place in certain ambient conditions. For example, thermal ground loop fields runs most efficiently in heat rejection, and heat concentration that cools the ground and can actually create permafrost when heat demand grows, making the operation of a ground loop field much less efficient or freezing it completely. The possibility exists that there is an optimal latitude for practical peak overall system efficiency. We believe that this latitude may be approximately between the 49th and 48th parallel, creating a significant competitive advantage for multi-layered energy facilities in Canada.