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Dynamic Duo: How Pairing Electric Boilers With A Heat Pump Complex Will Benefit CRE Sustainability Goals In Boston, Cambridge And Beyond


Commercial buildings in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, that already access low-carbon energy for heating and cooling as district energy customers will see even greater reductions in their carbon footprints when new steam-generating technology goes online in 2024.

A highly energy-efficient electric boiler and heat pump complex to be installed at Vicinity Energy’s Kendall Station facility in Cambridge will be a key addition to the district energy system that provides steam to more than 70M SF of commercial buildings through a 26-mile network of underground pipes.

Vicinity estimated it will eliminate 400,000 tons of local carbon emissions annually by 2035 with its eSteam technology, which the company said is the first 100% renewable, carbon-free thermal energy product in the United States. 

What sets the Kendall Station facility apart from other steam-generating stations is the planned installation of what Vicinity calls the country's largest industrial-scale heat pump complex. Manufactured by Germany’s MAN Energy Solutions, the heat pump will be a significant addition to the company’s eSteam process, said Patrick Gillooly, senior vice president of engineering at Vicinity Energy.

“The heat pump will greatly improve the efficiency of our process for creating carbon-free steam for commercial buildings,” he said.

The new MAN heat pump will replace a less-efficient gas-fired combustion boiler and work in tandem with an electric boiler entirely powered by renewable sources. Gillooly said that the heat pump would provide the utility’s baseline needs for steam while the electric boiler would be used as a peaking device when energy demand is high or power prices are low.

“For every megawatt of energy you put into an electric boiler, you get a megawatt out,” he said. “For every megawatt of energy that you put into a heat pump complex, you’ll get two to two and a half times the energy output, and that's the big difference between the two performance-wise.”

Bill DiCroce, chairman and CEO of Vicinity Energy, said Vicinity will harvest between 24.5 million and 49 million gallons of water per day from Boston’s Charles River for its heat pump and boilers to create steam, and then return the water to the river at a lower temperature. 

“We have made a lot of progress harvesting the energy of the sun and wind, and MAN’s cutting-edge technology will now enable Vicinity to renewably harvest energy at scale from rivers and oceans, which are presently warming from the effects of climate change,” DiCroce said in a statement. “This is a big deal in district energy’s efforts to decarbonize cities, and Vicinity is very proud to lead the way with MAN Energy technologies in this exciting venture.”

Vicinity plans to retrofit a seven-story room in its Kendall Station site to install the approximately 25K SF heat pump complex. The goal is to be operational in time to supply steam to customers for the winter of 2026-2027. 

Once the heat pump is operational, it will help owners and operators of commercial buildings served by Vicinity’s district energy infrastructure meet sustainability mandates. Customers will have the option to choose the amount of eSteam they need to decarbonize their buildings. Early adopters include the life sciences real estate developer IQHQ, which will use eSteam to provide carbon-free steam to a few buildings in the Fenway Park area.

Like commercial landlords across many states with building performance standards, Massachusetts' owners must make massive reductions to help the commonwealth meet its net-zero carbon emissions goal by 2050.

Gillooly noted that heat pump-produced eSteam has potential applications in Vicinity’s 11 other district energy systems in operation nationwide. Philadelphia, separated from neighboring New Jersey by the Delaware River, is next on Vicinity’s eSteam technology rollout.  

“We have completed the design engineering for the first electric boiler there, and the next step would be to move forward with construction,” he said. “In Philadelphia and Baltimore, we're exploring opportunities to install heat pumps to offer our customers a way to decarbonize their buildings to meet sustainability goals and city-mandated performance standards.”

This article was produced in collaboration between Vicinity Energy and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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