Markham District Energy


Location: Markham, Ontario

Application: Municipality

MW Production: 21

Products: CG260-12, CG260-16

Primary Fuel Type: Natural Gas

About Markham District Energy

Markham, Ontario is arguably one of the fastest growing municipalities in Canada. The city’s strategy for growth was focused on compact urban neighbourhoods and part of the vision included a modern, high-efficiency cogeneration plant, and district energy facility. District energy is forecast to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 50 percent. Produced at central plants, heated and chilled water is distributed throughout the community via underground thermal distribution systems. The energy that is delivered to the buildings is used to provide space heating or cooling. Markham District Energy (MDE) is now into its second decade of operations and the City of Markham is the only Canadian municipality to own and operate two district energy systems.


Creating a local energy system

An infamous ice storm that hit Eastern Canada in 1998 along with the deregulation of the power industry were critical factors in Markham’s decision to create a local energy system and become more self-reliant. “It was an opportunity to think differently about how we build our buildings and deliver energy,” says Bruce Ander, president and CEO of Markham District Energy.

Since construction of its initial plant at Warden Centre, MDE has since constructed two additional energy centres, the Clegg Energy Centre and the Birchmount Energy Centre, to serve its growing system. Currently, Markham District Energy serves over 7-million square feet of buildings in Markham Centre with another 3-million square feet of buildings committed to district energy in various stages of construction.

In 2007, Markham Stouffville Hospital received provincial approval to expand its facility. With the hospital’s original heating, cooling and emergency power assets nearing end of life, the pending expansion along with the planned community development of Cornell Centre provided MDE with the perfect opportunity to consider a second district energy system. In 2012, Bur Oak Energy Centre commenced operations to its first customers, totaling over 1-million square-feet, with Markham-Stouffville Hospital as the system’s anchor load.

“It’s a very important benefit, that they can make significant contributions to the design and engineering. While there are many world-class engines, the key to us is the service support that goes through Toromont all the way up to the factory.” -- Bruce Ander, president and CEO of Markham District Energy.

—Clark Johnson, plant energy manager for Canada Malting in Thunder Bay

In February 2014, MDE’s second district energy system, located at Cornell Centre started operation. The energy centre produces hot water, steam and chilled water for the area through a series of underground pipes that feed into each building, instead of each building having its own furnace or boiler equipment. The system provides backup electricity and heating and cooling for Markham Stouffville Hospital, Cornell Community Centre, Cornell Fire Hall and the surrounding area from a 5MW on-site diesel engine. The energy Centre provides power to over 10-million square feet of residential, commercial, and institutional buildings and is designed to serve future Cornell Centre buildings planned for construction over the next 10-years.

MDE’s primary fuel source is natural gas, with large, efficient boiler plants that produce hot water distributed through underground networks, and chilled water that comes from electric centrifugal chillers. The entire system represents economy of scale. “Electricity is a byproduct of what we do,” says Ander. “Thermal is first. We produce power as a means of producing useful heat for the community thermal grid.” The individual buildings connected to the district heating and cooling loop do not have any on-site hot water boilers or air-conditioning chillers. In their place, each district energy customer has its own heat exchanger, allowing for the transfer of thermal energy from the district heating and cooling water systems to the customer’s in-building heating and cooling loops. This system not only produces heat and steam, but electricity that is sold back to Ontario’s power grid.

CG260 generators debut

To dramatically increase efficiency and reduce emissions, MDE has deployed an aggressive cogeneration strategy using state-of-the art reciprocating generator sets and heat recovery technology. Toromont Power Systems supplied a CG260-12 generator set for the MDE Birchmount Energy Centre, a CG260-16 generator set for the Bur Oak Energy Centre, and ancillary electrical and mechanical equipment for both sites. The CG260 generator sets will provide a combined 7 MW of electricity and 7 MW of thermal energy to the Markham District Energy systems.


The CG260 utilizes particle-free combustion with chamber plugs for extended maintenance intervals and improved heat utilization. Currently, MDE operates over 21 MW of Cat-powered generating capacity at three locations that provide reliable and efficient power and heating to its customers. “We have successfully operated Cat power generation equipment for over a decade now, and Toromont has been an excellent partner since our project was first commissioned,” Ander says. Altogether, MDE utilizes nine Toromont Power System generator sets, including two 3516 diesel units that provide emergency power to the hospital as well some of Markham’s major business customers. “This is part of our emergency preparedness plan, having onsite power with both diesel and gas, Ander says. “Having those generators reliable and ready to run is important.” 


Toromont Power System Expertise

MDE hired Toromont as a turn-key provider to deliver not just generator sets, but to design and commission a CHP plant at Markham Centre as part of a bid process with the government for new generating capacity. “MDE needed a partner that could bid and guarantee capital and operating costs for a new CHP facility—not just provide generator set and component pricing,” Ander said. Toromont offered that turnkey capability, which formed the basis of a bidding partnership. “It’s a very important benefit, that they can make significant contributions to the design and engineering,” Ander adds. “While there are many world-class engines, the key to us is the service support that goes through Toromont all the way up to the factory.”

The reliability of parts and service support, combined with the expertise and technical knowledge were the keys in differentiating Toromont and Caterpillar. Two of the main reasons Toromont won the contract for the CG260 generators are their service group and the proximity to MDE’s operations, Ander says. The new generator sets incorporate heat recovery equipment and exhaust emissions control in accordance with tightening regulations. “Here at MDE, many of us have come from the supplier side,” Ander says. “We understand the role of the distributor and the service group, because projects succeed and fail on the operations side. We really have a firm understanding of where Toromont plays and what they bring to the table.”

The City of Markham is known as a Canadian leader in district energy with its award-winning district energy system in Markham Centre and Cornell Centre. Since Markham District Energy was established, the company has a 99.998 percent reliability rate, meaning less than three hours of energy downtime in more than 13 years. “First and foremost, our core business is to create thermal energy,” Ander reiterates, “and reliability is our first-priority. Whether the Cat fleet is providing emergency power to our customers, or grid power, or thermal energy for our heating system, high reliability is the goal for MDE and our suppliers.” While Markham isn’t doing it yet, one plan is to transition to biomass using clean wood waste as a fuel source. “We have some very good examples, like St. Paul [Minnesota], which converted to wood (from natural gas and coal) to heat their downtown,” Ander says. “Within 10 years, we may have the Cat natural gas generators work in conjunction with biomass or biogas boilers. We will not be dependent on just natural gas.”

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