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Canadians, caught in the oil frenzy that grips the industrialized world, are beginning to accept that alternative renewable energy sources are essential to sustain communities and to foster individual self-sufficiency. Thinking differently about energy should eventually lead us to think differently about many things in life and business.

Oil-free alternatives are no longer considered fringe concepts that are overly expensive or require abandonment of all that is familiar. Many environmentally-friendly energy systems can be integrated into existing energy grids to supplement and extend supplies, cut costs and reduce pollution. Combine these approaches with one of the most significant growing trends -- shared usage and ownership -- and oil-dependancy becomes a choice, not the only reality.

One Toronto-based district energy company uses a temperature differential as a renewable energy source and a shared delivery system to build profit.

"Toronto is not the only place, but it provided all the ingredients," said Dennis Fotinos, President & CEO of Enwave Energy Corporation, explaining that a 1982 Lake Ontario study identified deep-water cooling of Toronto buildings as technically and financially feasible. "You need a large urban, dense centre, that has multi land use, next to a large body of water that has very cold water -- lake water or ocean."

Deep water in Lake Ontario meets that criterion by remaining constant at 4°C year-round. Through three 5 kilometer intake pipes, positioned 83 metres below the surface of Lake Ontario, Enwave's Deep Lake Water Cooling System brings cold water into Toronto to cool buildings as an alternative to conventional air conditioning. The cold lake water is piped into a municipal pump station where heat exchangers transfer energy from the icy cold lake water to Enwave's closed chilled-water supply loop which runs through its customers' buildings. Only the coldness is removed; the otherwise-untouched water goes on to become municipal drinking water.

Enwave, reportedly the second largest district energy company in North America, promotes alternative energy, but it is driven by shareholder demands for solid returns. This private corporation has OMERS (the Borealis Penco Fund) and the City of Toronto as its shareholders.

District energy involves one or more central plants that deliver steam, hot water and, in this case, chilled water via an underground piping distribution network, which replaces individual in-house systems. Enwave manages 4 central energy plants and more than 20 kilometers of distribution piping, selling more than 2.5 billion pounds of steam annually. Its 140 institutional and commercial customers between Wellesley, Church and John Streets in Toronto's core, include the Toronto Dominion Centre, Royal Bank Plaza, Metro Toronto Convention Centre, the Air Canada Centre, hotels, hospitals and condominium towers. Enwave currently provides heating and/or cooling services to 51 per cent of its potential heating market. At full capacity, the Deep Lake Water Cooling System will reduce mainstream electricity use by a factor equivalent to 6,800 homes, which will also prevent 79,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the air -- equivalent to taking 15,800 cars off the road.

This summer, Enwave connected the first municipal building and began cooling Metro Hall with deep lake water. This is projected to reduce the city's peak-demand use of electricity by one and a half megawatts each year or enough electricity to power 174 homes. Plans are underway to connect the next city facility by 2008.

Although Fotinos acknowledges that corporations are increasingly aware of the value of environmental accountability, he is clear why Enwave's alternative currently attracts customers.

"There is environmental conscience among large building owners, but the biggest attraction is it is cheaper," said Fotinos. "In order for environmentally-friendly technology to succeed, social, financial and environmental must go hand in hand. I'd like to say buildings are hooked up for environmental reasons, but ... in the worst case scenario, we are equal [in price], but we are not polluting."

Fotinos emphasizes that each community must be investigated separately to determine feasibility for deep water cooling. A city like Thunder Bay on Lake Superior has easier access to cold water and less need for tunneling which could mean lower capital costs to offset lower demand. Vancouver is currently exploring the feasibility through an existing district energy company, but access to cold ocean water may make more areas in BC likely candidates as populations grow.

"When other communities find out about the lake water cooling project, it's 'uncharted waters' so they call us," said Fotinos, delivering a message of diversification that homeowners could consider, too. "Lake water or ocean water cooling could never be the most significant energy source, but it can be part of the broader energy mix. Deep water cooling needs to be combined with wind or solar or heat pumps. The combination is what makes a comprehensive energy plan."

Source: Enwave, Canadian District Energy Association

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