Condominium and Industry Profiles

July, 19 2017 Published by Toronto and Area Chapter - By James Russell

They Put Four Turbines on the Roof!

From the Summer 2017 issue of the CCI Toronto Condovoice Magazine.

Condominium boards are generally not what you would call 'trail blazers'. Conservative? - Yes. Fiscally responsible? - Yes. But 'pioneers'? - No. Except for the Board of The Grange who, three years ago, embarked on a journey that no other Board dared begin... THEY PUT FOUR TURBINES ON THE ROOF

AS AN OLDER BUILDING we're obviously fraught with a number of issues that relate to trying to bring the building up to spec in terms of environmental efficiencies," says Board President Rob Uhrig

Cogeneration has been around for more than a century in North America, even longer in Europe where cogeneration produces more than 11% of the electricity used by the European Union's Member States. Yet, in the GTA, condominium complexes and other MURBs (Multi-Unit Residential Buildings) have long shunned this greener process of producing electricity and heat. So what drove The Grange's Board of Directors to embrace cogeneration?

"As an older building we're obviously fraught with a number of issues that relate to trying to bring the building up to spec in terms of environmental efficiencies," says Board President Rob Uhrig. It was The Grange's property manager William (Bill) Colucci who first pitched the idea of supporting their decade old boilers with an innovative gas-fed, micro- turbine, cogeneration system.

"We had long entertained the idea of having some kind of (backup) generator… if for nothing else than powering at least one elevator for our ageing population, so we began looking at diesel and whatever else was out there and was practical," says Rob. Adding urgency to their search was Toronto Hydro's post-2013/2014 ice storm recommendation that MURBs be required to upgrade their current emergency systems.

The board however was finding that most suitable backup systems would have punched a nearly $900,000 hole in their capital expenditure budget. For that reason, the board was more than happy when Bill introduced them to cogeneration, an idea he credits to Rob Detta Colli, B.Eng., MBA, CEM, who is the Certified Energy Manager currently holding the Brookfield title of "Manager, Energy and Sustainability". The experience and knowledge that Bill had accumulated during his previous career as a heating technician was invaluable in convincing The Grange's residents and board of cogeneration's proven cost-saving and power resilience.

Soon after the board began researching the technology and investigating the market, a supplier offered The Grange four micro-turbines at no cost to the corporation. Why? Well, in part because The Grange's number of units and pattern of energy usage made it an ideal candidate for cogeneration, and in part, because The Grange was fortunate to have one of the few boards forwardthinking enough to recognise the fiscal and environmental benefits cogeneration provided. "We were a bit of a test case, says Rob Uhrig of The Grange.

Under the terms of their twenty-year agreement, the four, 240W micro-turbines, expected to supply approximately 80% of the mixed energy needs of the building, remain the property of the supplier while The Grange agrees to purchase electricity and gas at the same rate they would receive from Toronto Hydro and Enbridge Gas.

Margaret McInerney, one of the original owners said of the offer, "It sounded good", but the supplier's 'zero capital cost solution' struck some members of the board, and quite a few of Margaret's fellow owners, as too good to be true. "There's got to be a catch," said some owners when the board brought the supplier's proposal to last year's AGM. However, after much discussion, research and investigation, the board and residents decided, in the president's words, "not to look a gift horse in the mouth."

A typical MURB cogeneration system, referred to as 'combined heat and electrical power' or CHP, employs a fuel-burning micro-turbine to drive an electricityproducing generator. The heat generated by the turbines is recaptured and sent to the building for DHW and space heating, keeping residents warm and cosy during those long Etobicoke winters. Great idea? Yes. In fact, a writer for Toronto Hydro points out that, "CHP systems help achieve high efficiency by combining the production of heat and electric power into one process, using much less fuel than a separate conventional generation."

The Grange's four gas-fed micro-turbines are each equal to two refrigerators, combined they are the size of a mini-van, and weigh 2,000 lbs each.

Of course, the board was provided with a structural analysis and stamped drawings before the four behemoths were lifted by giant crane onto the roof in the Fall of 2016. Once a few minor electrical changes, necessary to accommodate the new technology, are completed The Grange's cogeneration system is expected to become operational this spring.

Because The Grange's new system has an additional backup electrical generation capability, it is more accurately referred to as a CHeP system – the small 'e' standing for emergency backup. Cogeneration's functionality is simple. Although the Grange's new system is hard-wired to Toronto's electrical grid, during a power interruption, a controller disconnects their system from the grid and begins providing electricity exclusively to The Grange for essential building functions such as elevators, fire panels, water pumps, and hallway and stairwell lighting. When the grid reenergises, The Grange's cogeneration system is automatically re-connected to the city. To provide a more personal benefit to the residents, The board of The Grange also installed half a dozen extra electrical outlets in the party room so residents can heat water for a nice cup of tea during prolonged outages, or charge their cell phones.

The Grange, located at 551 The West Mall, in the heart of Etobicoke had, since the building was completed in 1970, depended on a bank of wet-cell lead batteries for electrical back-up. Not only was the near half-century old battery back-up system inefficient and costly, it was only capable of providing emergency lighting power for twenty minutes, leaving many of the residents of their 305 unit, fifteen floor complex with no alternative but to tread up and down the emergency stairs during prolonged power outages.

But, no more.

Once The Grange's cogeneration system is commissioned, Toronto Hydro estimates the board will realise an estimated $110K in yearly savings. "The energy savings and efficiency make a solid business case for CHP, but for a building like The Grange, the overarching issue is resilience (e.g., emergency power)," says Rob Detta Colli.

For boards just now mulling over the idea of converting to cogeneration, Toronto Hydro points out, "Typically, companies that purchase the (cogeneration) equipment can expect a seven to twelve year simple payback, electricity cost savings of 30 to 40% and an internal rate of return of between 12 and 20%, based on current electricity prices." This does not take into account the added costs of incorporating backup power for "emergency power" and "sustained occupancy power Keep in mind however that the MURBs with the greatest potential energy savings are ones comprised of one hundred units or more and that have both high electrical and heating usage for at least sixteen hours a day, six days a week.

Although massive in scale and scope, The Grange's cogeneration project is not the sum of the board's greening initiatives.

  • In 2008, The Grange converted their outdoor pool's heating system from propane to a heat pump system – resulting in a yearly savings of more than $9,000.
  • In 2012, The Grange replaced all the single pane windows with energyefficient double pane units.
  • The Grange is currently well into their eighteen week, $1.8 million 'Corridor Project', which involves not only replacing the carpets, refinishing and reinforcing the suite doors but replacing the CFL lighting with LED.
  • Sometime in the fall of this year, they will be replacing the T8 bulbs in the garage with LEDs.
  • The board will clad the entire brick façade in 2018-2019 to improve the building's thermal performance and lessen The Grange's environmental footprint.

It would be a stretch to cite the names of Robert Uhrig, Donayle Hammond, Remus Zorlescu, Dave Thomas, and Quentin Jobs – The Grange's Board of Directors, in the same breath as Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, who discovered electric current, or Sir Charles Parsons, who invented the turbine, yet we would be remiss for not giving a nod of recognition to boards like The Grange's whose leadership and foresight provides a modern context to the honourable title of 'Pioneer.'


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