During the cold, snowy winters in much of Canada, many of us rely on furnaces, boilers and baseboard heaters to keep our homes and offices comfortable — and hope they don't suddenly quit during a cold snap.

But what if you didn't need any heating equipment in your home? What if your community provided a greener, more efficient, more reliable source of heat using locally sourced energy? What if it didn't take up space in your home or office building, you didn't have to maintain it, and it was just about guaranteed to keep running and keep you warm through big storms and power outages?

That's the promise of district energy systems — along with climate benefits that have earned them an endorsement from the United Nations Environment Program. World leaders meet Dec. 2-13 for the COP 25 UN climate conference in Madrid to discuss next steps in implementing the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb global warming, and district energy is one potential tool.

The idea is that instead of having an individual heating and cooling system for each building, multiple buildings are hooked up to a single, central system — similar to the idea of hooking into a municipal water service instead of each building relying on individual wells. The heating and cooling is distributed to individual buildings through pipes that typically contain heated or chilled water.

It's not new — some district energy systems in Canada are more than 100 years old.

But thanks to environmental concerns and the desire in communities to use greener energy technologies for heating and cooling, new projects are popping up across the country.

6 district energy projects underway in Canada They range from a project in Vancouver that recovers heat from sewer water to provide heat and hot water to more than 30 condo buildings to one that cools Toronto office towers in summer with water from the depths of Lake Ontario. And even smaller communities are jumping on board, including the village of Teslin, Yukon, which has installed a biomass system, and the rural municipality of Ritchot, Man., which has a district geothermal system.

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Nicole Pette

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