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Shifting the Paradigm

“How on earth can that work? Hot air rises.”

That’s the response of most North Americans who have contemplated the radiant heating system embedded in the ceilings of the Olympic Village. When hot air systems are all you’ve experienced, it’s a struggle to understand how heat energy carried by water can “come down” from above.

This is just a single example of the paradigm shifts – outside our experience and often beyond our current understanding – that we must make to achieve a sustainable society.

As the globe warms, alarmingly more quickly than originally forecast, we need to challenge almost all of our existing paradigms. And we need unprecedented collaboration and buy-in, across a diverse set of professions and individuals, if the necessary paradigm shift is to occur.

To achieve the energy efficiency goals of the Olympic Village, designers, engineers, contractors and trades had to drop traditional boundaries. Architects worked within passive design constraints aimed at satisfying engineering standards for thermal comfort. Engineers supported trades in learning how to install unknown technology. There was risk involved – how do you quote on a job when you’ve never done it? Yet, as the work progressed, new capacity was developed. Numerous firms in the Vancouver area now have experience with a highly energy-efficient alternative – from estimates to installation.

The paradigm shift still lacks a final piece, however. Future Village inhabitants must also learn the technology – from a thermostat that doesn’t show air temperature, to knowing how to treat their ceilings. They will be provided with a device that will report how much energy they are using – but they must choose whether to care, and whether to reduce their consumption to a sustainable level.

An integration of skills and knowledge was necessary for the energy systems to be designed and implemented at the Olympic Village. But an integration of intent – from designer through to resident – is required to deliver the project’s potential. This is certainly a new paradigm: working across differences to solve a global problem. The Olympic Village provides hope that we may be able to arrive at such an integration of intent, and make the paradigm shift we need.


This schematic shows four different building typologies from an energy systems perspective, and how they are all connected to the Neighbourhood Energy Utility.

Chapter Five Overview

This chapter tells the story of energy systems at the Olympic Village, from sewage to ceiling. The details of the systems themselves – while rich with innovation at present – may fade in relevance as technology continues to improve. Critical in these pages, however, is the story of shared problem-solving, learning, patience and cooperation. The tone of urgency is appropriate too – driven on this project by the tight deadline, but looming over us much more widely as the world’s climate changes.

The story begins at the end, with the closed-loop concept of energy being drawn from what has already been thrown out. The Southeast False Creek Neighbourhood Energy Utility will produce from sewage much of the energy required by the Olympic Village and adjacent neighbourhoods yet to come. The chapter moves on into radiant energy and energy design, and includes stories of implementation. Finally we detail the behavioural supports – the how and why of measuring energy use and the hoped-for results of providing that information to residents.

Energy is, without question, a critical topic in a shift to sustainability. Not only does energy efficiency correlate in most jurisdictions with greenhouse gas reduction, it is also an area of sustainability where problems and progress can be precisely measured and subjectivity kept to a minimum. If you save energy, you generally save money. For all these reasons, raising the bar in this area is critical to gaining the momentum we need.

Global Voices

Blair McCarry – An Energy Challenge to Building Professionals

If you’re in the building industry, it’s time to start looking ahead if you want to serve your clients well. To date, Canadian jurisdictions have been slow to adopt energy codes, so a lot of building professionals haven’t had to pay attention to energy efficiency. But there’s big change on the horizon.

Two key factors in energy standards are changing: energy-efficiency goals are increasing and the way we assess efficiency is shifting. Most energy codes are based on ASHRAE [American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air- Conditioning Engineers] standards. Basically, they set insulation levels, amounts of glazing, equipment performance levels, etc. Either you follow this thick rule book or you have to do some energy modelling to prove your building is energy efficient. The Province of BC, which does have an energy code, bases its code on ASHRAE 2004 standards; the City of Vancouver, which has been a leader in this area, has a code based on ASHRAE 2007. It all sounds good, but generally, good construction would have met these standards anyway.

Since 1989, the ASHRAE standards have slowly improved by about 18%. But the next standard, due in 2010, is going to be a 30% increase in efficiency over the 2004 code. That’s going to hit some people like an Exocet missile – those who haven’t been paying attention and aren’t ready for it.

Meanwhile, the City of Vancouver has indicated that they’re headed towards a performance-based code. That means energy intensity, the energy use per square metre, will
be measured. This is how many European countries already do it. They don’t dictate 92 pages of building specifications – they say, “do what you want, but this is all the energy you get.” They’re controlling what they want to control: energy consumption. A lot of jurisdictions are looking even further ahead – starting to target Net Zero energy and Net Zero greenhouse gases. And some cities – such as New York – are mandating building energy retrofits, not just looking at new construction.

Building professionals need to get on this, fast. Building to code is like making the worst building you can without getting sued. If you’re doing a good job for your client, especially if they want to do any environmental flag-waving, you instead have to aim ahead of today’s standards, because by the time that project is actually designed and built, it could be lagging behind.

This is an exciting time, a time of really big change. We’re doing catchup in Canada, but we’re getting carried along on the wave.

…by the time that project is actually designed and built, it could be lagging behind.

Blair McCarry

Heat = Energy

We’re accustomed to thinking of heat in terms of what it does in our daily lives. We purchase energy to heat our food and warm our homes. We don’t often think of heat as a form of energy that can be captured and transferred, replacing the need to purchase other forms of energy. That concept, however, is at the heart of this chapter – the reduction of fossil fuels by capturing heat that already exists.

Heat is caused by the movement of molecules – the infinitesimally small particles that make up ourselves and the things around us. Molecules are in constant motion, spinning and bouncing against one another as they move through space. What we call temperature simply describes how fast these molecules are moving. In a fresh cup of coffee, the water molecules are moving fast, and we feel this thermal motion as heat radiating from the cup when we hold it. Like billiard balls striking each other, fast-moving water molecules bounce against the slower-moving (cooler) molecules of the mug, warming the cup (and cooling the coffee). The transfer of heat is a transfer of energy.

At the False Creek Neighbourhood Energy Utility (NEU), circulating coolant (water) is warmed as it moves through a heat exchanger past municipal sewage (never mixing with it). An engine adds pressure to the warmed coolant, intensifying its low-level heat. It then moves through a heat exchanger with the water that circulates throughout the Village. It loses pressure as it goes, which releases energy – transferred as heat. The hot water goes to the Village where it will transfer its heat (energy) to each building’s separate system (and come back cooler). The coolant, having released its heat, travels back to the sewage heat exchanger and starts its warming cycle again. The heat in sewage is a source of renewable energy, augmented by natural gas when the Village’s energy demand is high.


A heat pump is a machine that moves heat from one location to another location using mechanical work. Most often, the technology is designed to move heat from a low temperature heat source to a higher temperature heat sink. Common examples are food refrigerators and freezers, air conditioners, and reversible-cycle heat pumps for providing thermal comfort.