Integrated Community Energy and Harvesting Systems (ICE-Harvest) is a cooperative research project that brings together industry and academia. It uses a whole-systems thinking approach to integrate thermal and electrical energy production, storage, redistribution and consumption that also significantly reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The proposed ICE-Harvest system integrates electricity generation and heat production at the community level. As such, it uniquely gives communities access to heat produced by residual heat resources, such as cooling towers, industrial processes, natural gas and nuclear power plants, and solar. Thus decreasing the amount of extra natural gas that is normally burned in our communities for heat. This project differs from a traditional District Energy approach because it can harvest excess heat from our community for redistribution when and where it is needed. It does so by employing a novel combination of demand management technologies – Energy Transfer Stations (ETS) – to manage the shifting electrical and thermal energy needs and balancing them with short-term and seasonal thermal storage. A more detailed overview can be found in our most recent paper published in Applied Energy.

ICE-Harvest "Super Structure" Network Diagram

ICE-Harvest is highly appropriate for Ontario and other cold regions that have high heating needs while simultaneously targeting fossil fuel consumption reductions. ICE-Harvest systems are modular in design and generate electricity at a small-scale (250kWe–2MWe) near intensified, mixed-used areas in order to meet local peak demands while harvesting thermal energy normally rejected by buildings and processes in the community to supply local micro-thermal networks. Given that the demand for heat in Ontario produces approximately 4 times the CO2 emissions of electricity, there is a great opportunity to significantly reduce fossil fuel consumption by using ICE Harvest and potentially reduce Ontario’s carbon footprint by 1.8 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

The associated research has and continues to develop unique modeling, analysis and design tools that help communities to site, design, optimize and control ICE-Harvest systems to achieve their GHG reduction targets and better manage the energy grid at the community level. This research can lead to reduced GHG emissions by providing an economic means to creating a truly distributed energy network. In addition to developing innovative clean energy technologies, this research aims to guide decision makers on which energy infrastructure investments for decarbonizing our energy system to provide environmental, economic and social value to Canada.

To enable innovative energy harvesting and energy system integration research, the $5.5M CFI/ORF funded Research Facility for Integrated Building Energy Harvesting Systems (ReFIBES) was constructed. This facility, the first of its kind in in North America, operates as a scaled version of a commercial Integrated Community Energy and Harvesting system installation, allowing researchers to study thermal distributed energy resources technologies in an applied setting. The ReFIBES research infrastructure provides a basis to advance knowledge in integrated solutions, including Combined Heat and Power, solar PV-thermal, heat recovery heat pumps, V2G bi-directional charging, stationary batteries, short-term thermal and geothermal seasonal storage. This facility enables validation of the integration of local thermal and electrical energy resource equipment performance. The ReFIBES facility equipment is full commercial building size to prove real world performance and can heat, cool and power the Hatch Centre building, and has thermal network connections to adjacent campus buildings. This capability is a valuable contribution to support model validation with commercial scale experiments.

The Integrated Community Energy System Experimental Facility located in the Gerald Hatch Centre on campus.

Image of Geothermal Borehole Piping above ground but under building slab

Top: Geothermal Borehole Layout before Gerald Hatch Center slab Installation
Bottom: Geothermal Borehole Scaled Illustration under the Gerald Hatch Center

Unique in the world is the commercial scale geothermal borehole seasonal thermal storage field. This simple approach uses the soil under buildings, parking lots or roads as a thermal storage medium, by drilling relatively shallow holes in which long life plastic pipes are inserted, which allow water to pass through and either heat or cool the soil. Through an intelligent arrangement of boreholes and header connections, it is possible to heat a separate set of boreholes in the core of the field with a different temperature than the boreholes in the perimeter. This radial zoning approach enhances radial stratification, so that high quality thermal energy from some higher temperature residual heat sources can be stored for months, and then extracted directly as warm water to provide heating in the winter. The borehole seasonal thermal storage field under the Hatch Centre has validated the commercial viability of this low-cost seasonal storage available under most buildings to decarbonize heating and reduce the impact of electrification of heating on the electrical grid.

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