Veolia Energy wins innovation award

July 2, 2010
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The Energy Solutions Center recently honored Veolia Energy Grand Rapids with a highly prized innovation award for a cutting-edge condensing heat exchanger installed last year at its District Heating and Cooling Operation, which serves 130 downtown customers.

The heat exchanger, which is called an economizer, has reduced the volume of fuel used by at least 5 percent; has lowered the per-pound cost to produce the steam the DHCO uses for heating and cooling; and has decreased the facility’s overall carbon footprint by an amount that roughly equals the carbon-dioxide emissions of 1,000 vehicles.

DTE Energy nominated Veolia Energy GR for the award. The Energy Solutions Center presented it to Vice President and General Manager Keith Oldewurtel a few weeks ago at a conference held in Detroit.

“The award recognizes end users, such as a Veolia or another manufacturing facility, for implementing projects that utilize technology to improve efficiency and sustainability,” said Oldewurtel. “It’s basically innovation and the use of technology, and partnering with, in our case, DTE to get a project put together and move forward with it.”

Veolia Energy GR hired local architectural and engineering firm Progressive AE a year ago to design and build the economizer. Construction was done by mid-November and the economizer was operating by the end of last year. Williams & Works, another local engineering firm, managed the project.

“I think what the award does is it gives some recognition for the work and the investment that we are making in the facility,” said Oldewurtel.

Adding the economizer is the biggest upgrade Veolia Energy GR has made to the DHCO system since the company bought the plant at Market Avenue and Fulton Street from Kent County in December 2008 for $2.4 million. But it isn’t the only improvement the firm has made. Meters have been changed and about half the system’s manhole pipes have been reinsulated to reduce heat loss and leaks.

“We completed all of that work last fall. In the end, we have insulated nearly 50 percent of our vaults. We’ve got about 100 throughout the city, and we’ve insulated a little over 50 of those. … Some were completely insulated, while some were just missing insulation on the fittings,” said Oldewurtel.

Veolia Energy GR also replaced a low-pressure distribution system that accounted for about a quarter of the facility’s total distribution with a new high-pressure system. “That was actually completed this spring on Ionia during the city’s Ionia project. We also installed new controls on our primary boiler.”

The firm discovered an unexpected efficiency while installing the economizer. Oldewurtel said that, during construction, they discovered they needed to do some work on the building’s roof drains that handle rainwater. The rainwater had been drained into an inner wall and then discharged into the storm sewers. But not anymore: The firm decided to harvest the rainwater.

“We’ve rerouted all of the rainwater off our roof into a tank that we use for boiler feedwater. So we’re recovering 100 percent of the rainwater off our roof as a supplement to the water we purchase from the city as boiler make-up water,” said Oldewurtel. “It’s a small portion, but it’s utilizing what’s available to us that otherwise would just end up in a storm sewer. It’s small, yet it contributes to sustainability.”

Veolia Energy GR is a division of Veolia Energy North America, the leading owner and operator of district energy networks in the United States. Veolia Energy NA is based in Boston and owns and operates 22 plants in 11 U.S. cities.

The Energy Solutions Center is headquartered in Washington, D.C. The nonprofit describes itself as a technology commercialization and market development organization that represents energy utilities, municipal energy authorities, and equipment manufacturers and vendors. ESC says its mission is to accelerate the acceptance and deployment of new energy-efficient, gas-fueled technologies that enhance the operations and productivity of commercial and industrial energy users.

“We are continuing to do capital projects. We’re changing out some boiler-feed pumps right now with higher efficiency pumps and variable-speed drives. We’ve got a three-year plan to continue to abandon leaking low-pressure lines. We’re continuing to improve some of our vaults that are in poor condition and we continue to insulate vaults and manholes,” said Oldewurtel.

“The economizer was the real big project, and the first year of our low-pressure main project was the big-ticket project for us. But over the next three years, we’ve got continued capital-improvement plans where we’re investing to continue to improve the efficiency of the system.”

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