Residents of the GTA likely immediately think of Enwave Energy Corporation as a provider of green, chilled water to Toronto’s skyscrapers drawn from the depths of Lake Ontario.
With little fanfare, the wholly owned unit of Brookfield Infrastructure Partners LP (BIP.UN-T) has become a North American green energy powerhouse, operating thermal energy plants across the continent in Chicago, Houston, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Seattle and Windsor, Ont.
Its thermal energy plants send either steam, hot water and/or chilled water to buildings in those cities.
Suffice to say, it has grown immensely from its humble beginnings as a City of Toronto asset that was acquired by Brookfield in 2012.
Still growing and consolidating
“We have a growth ambition and consolidation is a big part of that,” said Enwave president and chief operating officer Carlyle Coutinho.
He notes there are other companies attempting to acquire energy plants but there are few “pure play” district energy providers such as Enwave expanding through acquisition.
One of the company’s chief advantages is its Toronto roots, given the rapid growth the city is experiencing. Construction cranes mark new office and condo towers while infill residential is sprouting up within the city and surrounding suburbs.
“Toronto is really great for all these different new communities that are popping up and how do you design a better city? How do you design the energy requirements for that and we have a team that solely focuses on that – not just in Toronto but across North America.”
In Toronto, that growth will include the East Bayfront and Unilever lands that are still to be fully developed.
Plenty of cool towers
In Toronto, Enwave has cooling agreements with approximately 75 building clients and more than 100 on the heating side of its business.
Enwave has profited from the construction boom, but it continues to add clients representing a mix of new-built and older structures that can benefit from its heating and cooling.
“The beauty of our deep lake cooling especially, we can integrate with (an existing) cooling plant.”
Bigger is better when it comes to working with Enwave. The company is currently in discussions with a number of hospitals in the city and other energy hungry facilities.
Given the office construction frenzy in the city’s “downtown south” is smack in Enwave’s service area, growth has not been hard to come by.
“There are not too many (new buildings) that we can say we don’t connect to Enwave. We have been in discussions with pretty much everyone.”
One notable new Toronto building owned by a U.S. based company is not connected to Enwave, more because of a lack of familiarity with deep water cooling than any other reason, Coutinho said.
“Generally all the players like Cadillac Fairview and Oxford (Properties Group) and Brookfield, the people we are building, we have long relationships with. We work in partnership with them to provide unique energy solutions to drive value to their properties in ways that are not traditionally achievable.”
Hooking up with Enwave can also “green up” a building and make a higher LEED accreditation possible.
Largest thermal storage business in Windy City
In Chicago, Enwave operates five plants, including the world’s largest thermal storage business. In that city situated on the shore of Lake Michigan, the company freezes huge pools of water, using off-peak, low-cost electricity.
The Chicago plants displace about 200 megawatts of energy at peak periods that would be provided by burning natural gas if there was no alternative.
“It is very sustainable and friendly from a carbon perspective,” said the Enwave president.
He expects the company to take a sector-specific approach to expansion rather than a city-based focus.
“We are looking at where is energy really important and resilient such as data centres and hospitals? Close to major urban centres where we can provide solutions and build off of them.”
REALPAC veteran a new recruit
Enwave recently hired REALPAC veteran Julia St. Michael as its director of sustainability engagement. Enwave’s newest executive sees her challenge as explaining future technologies to customers, building long-term relationships and reaching new customers.
“We have information that we can share and we have new skills and knowledge that we are building on, but people just don’t know,” St. Michael explained.
“There is so much happening here that we really need to be out talking about it.”