Sewers and Superstars

Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic Village is full of shit.

But bobsled aficionados, fear not: Oddly enough, officials planned it this way.

That’s right folks, the athletes’ village in Vancouver, which houses the 2010 Winter Olympics competitors, will be heated by the city’s sewer system. Since the system relies on-um, well, you know—for warmth instead of natural gas or electricity, the sewer heat is more environmentally friendly than traditional systems.

From a Reuters article:

“It’s very similar to geothermal energy,” Chris Baber, project manager for the city of Vancouver’s Neighborhood Energy Utility, said of the sewer-heat system.

Much as geothermal systems use heat exchanges to extract heat from the soil, the sewer-heat system uses exchangers to extract the otherwise waste heat from the city’s sewage. The heat can then be used to warm up buildings and provide hot water. Natural gas will be used as a supplemental energy source on exceptionally cold days, Baber said.

But sewer heating wasn’t officials’ first choice (we can’t imagine why). They originally planned on using a biomass system fueled by wood chips, but it would not have been completed in time for the 2010 winter games. The sewer heater is expected to be finished in 2009.

For many people, sewers may not be the most desirable method of heating. But for creativity and energy efficiency, we give it the gold.


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Actually, the sewer-heating plan was discussed as an innovative method to significantly reduce greenhouse gases from standard heating for several years. The biomass concept only surfaced as a viable alternative last December, but, unlike the sewer-heat option, required an air-quality permit from the regional government. In order to get the Olympic Village built on time, the permit needed to be issued by March 31, an extremely short timeline as these things go. When the neighbours discovered the concept involved three to four trucks worth of sawdust pellets delivered to the furnaces every week, and another truck per week to haul away ash, they weren't impressed and objected. The permit process bogged down to the point it would have taken six months more for a decision, well beyond the "do this or do that but do something" time-frame, so they went back to the sewer-heat option. That option is available because two big sewer lines already in place run underground, near where the Olympic Village is being constructed. The heat generated by the pipes has always been there; it's just never been collected before.

/Peter Morgan, Morgan:News:2010

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