Sustainable energy company Enwave Energy Corp. has received $818,367 in funding from the government, Mattamy Homes and The Atmospheric Fund for a pilot program to heat and cool hundreds of new neighbourhood homes with geothermal power.
The initiative will support development of the Enwave Geothermal Community Energy System in the City of Markham, Ont. It utilizes GeoExchange, a low-carbon energy system that involves drilling pipes up to 250 metres deep to access subterranean heat, then connecting into each home. From there, heat pumps installed in the homes can control heating, cooling and domestic hot water.
As a result, furnaces and air conditioners are not needed for home temperature regulation, which cuts natural gas and electricity usage for heating and cooling, respectively.
The company claims GeoExchange produces 75 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions and is 60 per cent more energy efficient as compared to an Ontario Building Code home with a typical natural gas furnace.
Springwater low-carbon neighbourhood
GeoExchange is installed in the Springwater community in north Markham. Announced in 2018 with construction beginning in 2020, Mattamy is building over 300 homes including townhomes, single detached and semi-detached.
Currently, the Springwater GeoExchange system has eight homes online. The remaining 304 homes will be completed by Mattamy and handed over to homeowners by mid-2023.
The funding is comprised of $350,000 from the Green Infrastructure – Energy Efficient Buildings Program of Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN), and the remainder from the City of Markham, Mattamy and The Atmospheric Fund.
“For Enwave, it was a step in the direction we wanted to go: pursue GeoExchange technology globally,” said Amy Jacobs, the senior vice-president of commercial operations.
Enwave will use the funds for capital costs for the Springwater community, and will be responsible for deploying all the capital to build, own and operate the GeoExchange system. As for cost, Jacobs said homeowners “will not pay more than they traditionally would than for a traditional air-conditioned home.”
Jacobs said the project was conceived as part of Markham’s plan to be a net-zero city by 2050. Enwave added The Atmospheric Fund as a partner, while Markham applied on behalf of the project to NRCAN.
“It made sense to partner with a forward-thinking city like Markham and a developer like Mattamy Homes. It’s not very long until we have to accomplish what municipalities want to do with net-zero. We want to be at the forefront of working to figure that out,” she said.
In an email exchange with SustainableBiz, a Mattamy Homes spokesperson wrote Springwater is the first time it has collaborated with Enwave in a low-rise, greenfield environment. The homebuilder picked Enwave because it “is an industry leader for geothermal/district energy, and has the scale and financial backing we were looking for in a long-term partner.”
Mattamy did not disclose its own financial commitment to the project.
A “first mover” for sustainable housing
Enwave sees the potential for the community to expand to future phases.
“We were able to build the structure to get ahead on the process, and approval to get the municipalities on board,” Jacobs explained.
GeoExchange can be replicated at other new communities in Markham, she said. Jacobs also noted Enwave is a “first mover” for sustainable house building that can be replicated in any city across Canada.
Enwave is no stranger to sustainable infrastructure projects in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) that make use of nature, rather than fossil fuels, for temperature regulation.
The company has projects like Deep Lake Water Cooling, a low-carbon system that harnesses cold water from the bottom of Lake Ontario to cool hospitals, data centres, educational campuses, government buildings, commercial and residential buildings in downtown Toronto.
Geothermal is a relatively novel idea across Canada, despite the country’s high potential to exploit the natural heat sourced deep underground. The first geothermal plant in Canada was built in Saskatchewan in 2019 to power 5,000 homes, while Creative Energy installed the GTA’s first GeoExchange community energy system in Oakville.
Geothermal gains wider acceptance
A 2022 panel at ULI Toronto that included Enwave discussed a “huge shift” on considering geothermal energy in Ontario and Toronto, despite challenges like clearing up misconceptions and the higher initial cost.
Enwave is also exploring other decarbonization efforts in the built environment.
Jacobs cited a mixed-use, high-rise and public space building in Etobicoke that will be interconnected for geothermal heating. It is slated to commence construction in 2023.
There is also a plan to use effluent heat from treated wastewater to heat and cool an 11 million square foot development encompassing commercial, educational, residential and retail buildings in Mississauga, before the water is recycled back into a lake.