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Clean Growth Pathway to 2050 | The Fortis BC’s Experience

Clean Growth Pathway to 2050 | The Fortis BC’s Experience

FortisBC is British Columbia’s largest energy provider, with more than 100 years of knowledge and experience in delivering energy to its customers. FortisBC delivers safe, reliable, and cost-effective natural gas, electricity and renewable and low-carbon fuels, such as Renewable Natural Gas to its customers across the province. FortisBC has more than 2,600 employees proudly serving approximately 1.2 million customers in 135 British Columbian communities and 58 Indigenous communities across 150 Traditional Territories.

In 2018, FortisBC released its “Clean Growth Pathway to 2050, which presents FortisBC’s pathway to align with the provincial government’s goal to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) while supporting economic growth and maintaining affordability and customer choice. FortisBC’s proposed pathway highlights four pillars requiring significant energy system transformation to meet the growing demand for clean energy. One of these areas highlights the need for increasing the investment in energy efficiency in the built environment and developing innovative technologies in this space in BC. Investing in promotion of Gas Absorption Heat Pumps (GAHP) technology was one of the many ways FortisBC aims to achieve this goal.

In 2019, FortisBC’s Innovative Technologies team, as part of the Conservation and Energy Management (C&EM) department initiated a pilot program to verify the operational performance of commercial GAHPs and installed 14 Robur-A units at seven commercial sites across BC, serving domestic hot water. The program was designed to demonstrate the energy savings potential, address any issues associated with the installation and operation, and test the compatibility of commercial GAHPs with local climate zones in commercial buildingsThe pilot program served as an opportunity to learn about the customer experience and market readiness of the GAHP technology. These projects helped FortisBC verify the manufacturers’ published performance data for GAHP units and apply it at a system level. Commercial Air-to-water GAHP units were installed in Multi-Unit Residential Buildings (MURBs) and school facilities in the Lower Mainland climate zone under live conditions.

GAHPs offer a resilient space and hot water heating option for facilities that are/will be connected to the natural gas grid. The technology is also compatible with renewable and low-carbon fuels, such as Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) and hydrogen blend of up to 20% with natural gas.

GAHPs operate on a heat-activated absorption cycle. The cycle relies on the absorption of refrigerant (ammonia3) by a transport medium (water). The circulation of water-ammonia (diluted) solution is limited to the refrigeration loop inside the outdoor unit. The heat is transferred through water running in a separate piping loop.

Since the units come pre-charged and sealed with ammonia-water solution, there is little chance that operations, maintenance, or installation personnel will ever come into contact with the refrigerant. Through proper guidance from the manufacturers during the field demonstrations, FortisBC was able to mitigate concerns about the use of ammonia.

In July 2021, FortisBC launched a limited-time GAHP early adopter offer to support a select commercial early adopters of this technology implement it in their facilitiesThere are currently more than 15 commercial customers throughout the province who have completed the design phase and are actively working with their design and contractor teams for completion and commissioning of their GAHP systems. These enthusiastic organizations include but are not limited to a healthcare centre, a university education facility, a number of MURBs and schools, a recreational centre, and a fire hall.

In June 2022, FortisBC became the first utility in Canada to introduce gas absorption heat pump prescriptive rebates for its commercial customers. Product rebates are offered for installing GAHPs, with additional rebates for adding smart controls and other performance optimizations.The rebates also provide support for customers with the cost of conducting a detailed engineering feasibility study for their facilities to ensure customers are able to do their own due diligence with peace of mind. GAHPs range in price, and the units alone can cost between $20,000 and $30,0004. Project-specific factors such as the number of units, controls, integration with existing equipment, installation requirements, piping and insulation can impact the overall total project cost.