October 30, 2015

A Chilly Solution to the Dog Days of Summer

On a hot summer's day, one can't blame an office worker on Boston's waterfront from looking longingly out the Harbor, dreaming of getting out on the water to beat the heat.

But now, imagine using the chilly waters of the Harbor to actually cool those nearby office buildings through the dog days of summer.

The technology is already in use in Toronto, where a company called Enwave has partnered with the city to tap into Lake Ontario to cool municipal offices and other downtown buildings.

Enwave's system pumps cold water from the freezing depths of Lake Ontario and uses it as the cooling water for air conditioning systems in Toronto's Financial District, with enough capacity to cool 34 million square-feet of office space - a space equal to about 300 blocks of Manhattan.

Though the systems can be rather costly up front, they can provide savings over time through reduced electric costs. In fact, the Toronto system uses 85 million kilowatt-hours less per year than a conventional cooling system – a number equal to electricity needed to power more than 11,000 average Massachusetts homes each year.

The success of installations such as Enwave's in Toronto brings up an interesting possibility when considering about the issues of efficiency and environmental impact on a local level.

What if a similar system could be built along the Boston waterfront?

Could the chilly waters of Boston Harbor prove useful in offsetting the energy used by the large amount of commercial office space in the city?