“All the challenges of a big city; all the benefits of a close-knit community,” is how Ben Franz-Knight, executive director of the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority, describes Pike Place Market, where hundreds of small businesses and social services are the core of this signature 9-acre Seattle historic district. “We’re like a small town inside of downtown Seattle.”
Community exchange has always been at the heart of the market’s ethics and ideals. Now the market benefits from high-efficiency district energy systems that share and exchange energy between building partners, saving energy, money and maintenance costs, as well as providing more reliable power. Energy and water systems are tied together throughout the market’s hydronic loop, allowing vendors to share heating and cooling infrastructure that keeps shops and common areas comfortable and customers and tour groups happy.
The systems are so energy efficient, Franz-Knight explains, that the utility company asked to check the meters. They thought they “might be broken, because the gas readings were so low.”
One reason that the market’s new gas-powered boilers use so little energy is that waste heat (captured from refrigeration units) is recycled to provide warmth where it’s needed. And there’s plenty of heat to recycle from refrigeration units throughout the market. One large walk-in unit reportedly keeps up to $1 million worth of Alaskan King crab legs at subzero temperatures. Other units safely store fresh meat for butchering, restaurant fixings for meal prep or fresh farm produce for sale. Those refrigerators would normally reject heat into the air, but this system captures and recycles heat throughout the market.
Fish is big business at Pike Place and that means ice. Lots of ice. But after the fresh seafood is sold and the day is done, what happens to all the leftover ice? In bygone days, it was put out into the street to melt, which literally stunk (like fish). Shoveling it down sewers caused blockages. It’s even rumored that the occasional shovel being dropped in a manhole (by mistake, along with the ice), caused the city to weld the openings shut. So the ice had to be treated like other garbage.
“Now we avoid all of that and save around $50,000 annually by avoiding expensive hauling fees to dispose of the ice as garbage,” says Franz-Knight. A melting station (think of a huge, heated tub) thaws the ice and safely sends it down the drain. Although the meltwater itself cannot be reused due to salt added to keep the ice colder, the energy from the ice is recycled to central chilling units that then require less energy to make cold water.
Reliability and maintenance have been vastly improved through district energy. Market vendors used to cobble together their own equipment to heat or cool their shops, and it wasted a lot of energy. If a vendor needed to add new equipment that required a lot of energy to run, it could be very difficult to set up, and sometimes there wasn’t enough power to go around.
“Instead of everyone doing it by themselves, let’s do it together,” is how Duncan Thieme, principal, SRG Partnership Inc. (the project architect) describes the philosophy behind the market’s new energy system. Now centralized water-to-air heat pumps move warm or cool air to large spaces, and centralized water-to-water heat pumps make chilled or hot water to pipe to buildings, where vendors use smaller units to move air that keep their businesses comfortable.
Coordinating hundreds of small business in a historic district isn’t easy, but it’s been worth it, says Franz-Knight. “Prior to the renovation, the market’s interior spaces [built in the 1920s] weren’t providing an adequate shopping environment. Now we’re getting the benefits of new energy-efficiency technology and all while preserving the quirky, eclectic open character that makes the market what it is.”
This project culminated with help from the SEATTLE 2030 District, a nonprofit that promotes practical solutions, like district energy, in helping to dramatically decrease environmental impacts from building construction and operations. The city of Seattle is a founding member of the Seattle 2030 District and a national leader in energy conservation, green energy production, and sustainable building. Seattle has a citywide goal to be carbon neutral by 2050.
CHECKLIST for DISTRICT ENERGY
Network and find out who in your neighborhood has an energy usage pattern that may be mutually beneficial, and alert the city early in your project for guidance on city requirements and additional opportunities.
Create and review bids for contractors and subcontractors.
Talk to your architecture, engineering and sustainability consultants to determine design.
Gather architecture, engineering, sustainability and operation experts to discuss feasibility together with leadership.
Getting clear on the legal agreements you’ve set up with your district energy partner will help you get the city and financing partners to give you the thumbs-up.
Explore potential new funding sources, and determine risk comfort and assets.
Talk to district energy experts to discuss what’s needed to meet the city’s energy code and learn about recognition and offsets.
Know what permits you’ll need and how long it will take to be approved by the city.