Seattle Hub for District Energy Technologies

by Gail Kinner

In Seattle’s downtown core, one can easily find a construction crane every couple of blocks.  A plethora of sizeable projects, including high-performance buildings, have broken ground in this hotbed for technology and innovatively-minded companies.  And, as built environments grow, so do the possibilities of buildings exchanging resources.

The South Lake Union neighborhood has the first of what is anticipated to be a quickly expanding energy-sharing network.  On the Rufus Block 14 project, a low-temperature hot water district energy plant was collaboratively designed by University Mechanical Contractors (UMC) and WSP to harvest, store, and share waste heat generated from the adjacent Westin data center; heat that would typically be rejected to the atmosphere.

The Block 14 district energy system boasts a phenomenal central plant comprised of heat recovery chillers, and cooling towers to pumps, intricate piping systems, and controls – all of which play a key role orchestrating the push and pull of heat between the buildings. UMC built the plant and successfully integrated the data center’s heat exchanger/piping system with Block 14 heat recovery chillers and the district energy distribution loop.

Block 14 Central Plant - District Energy

The 2,000-ton thermal energy utility plant supplies chilled water to the data center for cooling.  This cycled water returns to Block 14 at an elevated temperature and can be stored if required to optimize system operation.  Heat pumps then further elevate the temperature to provide heat and domestic hot water for not only the Block 14 project, but as many as four city blocks of the growing campus.   Through a primary/secondary water pumping system, water flows are certain to get where they are needed and at the temperatures they need to be to ensure stable operation of a reliable system that serves millions of square feet of connected campus buildings.

In extremely populated areas like South Lake Union, there are numerous opportunities for integrating waste heat and renewable energy that are difficult to achieve in a single building. The life-cycle of benefits of shared energy systems create multiple and symbiotic successes with slightly more investment and additional planning.

With a plan in place for connecting buildings, constructing an energy plant and the shared infrastructure can reduce total construction costs for multiple buildings.  Lower construction costs help to ensure that the leasing costs in these buildings remain competitive, resulting in higher and more stable occupancy.  Finally, tenant consumption of fossil fuels or additional energy to heat and cool buildings separately is reduced or eliminated.

The time has never been better to change the way we think, plan, and build for a cleaner city and a healthier economy.


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