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How Vicinity Energy’s Clean Energy Plans are Supporting Philadelphia
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How Vicinity Energy’s Clean Energy Plans are Supporting Philadelphia

Philadelphia has an ambitious goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. Here’s how one company is working alongsize the city

Carbon reduction is vital in the City to meet the Paris Climate agreement and lessen the impacts of climate change in Philadelphia.

Increased carbon emissions is also a climate justice issue: low-income and communities of color are the most impacted by climate stressors like hotter temperatures and health problems. Philadelphia kicked off the Hunting Park “Beat the Heat” plan in 2018 for this very reason: to help residents cope with already-hotter temperatures.

Since 70% of Philadelphia’s carbon footprint is from buildings (especially the HVAC & lighting), that means it’s essential to reduce the carbon footprint of commercial buildings. 

District Energy: Using Restaurant Waste Cooking Oil to Heat the City

How will the City reach its carbon neutrality goal? You may be familiar with wind and solar energy as a clean energy source, but you might not know about district energy. Philadelphia is home to one of the largest district energy systems in the country and plays a significant role in delivering clean energy and carbon reductions in the City.

What is district energy? District energy consists of a network of robust underground pipes that deliver thermal energy – steam, hot or chilled water – from a central facility to multiple buildings, often in a downtown “district.” Rather than have commercial buildings rely on their boiler and chiller plants, this hidden underground energy resource improves overall energy efficiency, lowers the carbon footprint, and increases reliability.

Like the City of Philadelphia, Vicinity Energy also has a zero-carbon emissions goal by 2050. With a Philadelphia location at 2600 Christian Street, Vicinity centrally produces and distributes steam and chilled water to over 100 million square feet in the City of Brotherly love. Locally, Vicinity has invested $300 million in its district energy infrastructure. The system currently reduces the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 300,000 tons annually – the equivalent of taking 65,000 cars off the road. As Vicinity’s Environment, Health and Safety and Green Solutions Manager Jessica Hartley explains, “we’re already a green energy provider and plan to get greener as part of our Clean Energy Future plan, including integrating renewable heating oil into our operations last year and exploring electrification of the district energy system.”

Although district energy systems often run on natural gas, more and more are transitioning to take advantage of lower-carbon alternatives, including local renewable fuels and power sources. Vicinity announced in early 2022 that its leveraging biogenic fuel created from waste vegetable oil and fats from the local food service industry in its operations. Transitioning to this renewable source will cut emissions by an additional 12K tons of carbon annually and recycle 600,000 gallons of waste oil that would otherwise go to a landfill or clog up city sewers.

How Vicinity Drives Sustainability in the Local Community

“Companies today can’t stay in their bubble. As a local clean energy company, our employees live and work in this community. It’s so important to all of us that we support our city and neighbors through community engagement and sustainability-focused initiatives,” explained Hartley.

As Vicinity’s Green Solutions Manager, Hartley has coordinated local community trash cleanups, tree plantings, battery recycling events, and procuring an electric bicycle for customer site visits, to name a few. Vicinity is also a member of local organizations like Green Buildings United, the Water Resources Association of the Delaware River Basin, a Founding Member of Circular Philadelphia, and a board member of the Schuylkill River Development Corporation (SRDC).

“What’s exciting is that the community is starting to take notice,” said Hartley. Vicinity was recently voted the “Best Alternative Energy Company in Philadelphia” in Metro Philadelphia’s 2021 Philly’s Best awards. “This award highlights the local community’s recognition and appreciation of Vicinity’s low-carbon, green steam and sustainability efforts in Philadelphia, and we’re so proud and honored to be recognized by the people of Philadelphia.”

Learn more about Vicinity’s district energy system in Philadelphia here and sign up for Vicinity’s blog to stay updated on the latest energy news.

This article was sponsored by Vicinity Energy.

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Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with local beer and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Sir Floofus Drake. View all posts by Julie Hancher
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