Don't have an account? Create one now
Partners for Climate Protection

Richmond’s sustainability initiatives — always ahead of the curve

Share This Page 

New LEED-certified fire station in Richmond, BC. (Credit: City of Richmond)

This is part of a series of seven case studies that highlight members of ICLEI Canada's and FCM's Partners for Climate Protection program that have reached Milestone 5.

A carbon-neutral City of Richmond pushes the district energy envelope

Population PCP member since GHG reduction target
198,309 (2016 Census) 2001

Corporate: 65% (reduction from city buildings) below 2007 levels by 2020; no net increase in building energy consumption relative to 2012 levels; 20% (reduction in fleet emissions) below 2007 levels by 2020. Carbon-neutral operations.

Community: 33% below 2007 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050. Council also endorsed a separate energy target of 10% reduction below 2007 levels by 2020.

Progress towards targets: Carbon-neutral operations since 2013 (including offsets); expected 48% reduction in GHGs from corporate buildings in 2018; E3 Fleet Platinum designation; overall 6% decrease in GHG emissions between 2007 and 2012 (latest reporting year from the province was 2012) despite a 7% growth in population.

"We're called the Island City by Nature and we take that seriously. Richmond has emphasized sustainability for many years, has met its targets, and been carbon-neutral as a civic organization since 2013. There are a number of factors to our success, but the advent of our district energy utility was an important statement by the city. We're now in the enviable position of being able to use that concept to redevelop our City Centre. Everything came together at the right time!"
— Malcolm Brodie, Mayor of Richmond


​Richmond is a city of firsts. It was the first city in British Columbia to benchmark all its corporate buildings for energy use, the first to adopt green building policies and LEED building requirements for civic buildings, and an early adopter of large-scale district energy using renewable energy. In December 2017, the city became the first to require that all new developments provide Level-2 vehicle charging capacity for all residential parking stalls.

"Around 2010, we started to understand the benefits of district energy and had initially expected that the private sector would establish a utility," explains Peter Russell, Senior Manager, Sustainability and District Energy. "We came to understand that there would be a number of challenges for them and that our involvement would be instrumental. Our thinking was validated when a developer, who had experience with geoexchange systems in his buildings, approached us to partner. It made sense to leverage the city's utility management and construction experience with the developer's geoexchange system experience."

From those discussions, the first phase of the city-owned Alexandra District Energy Utility was born. The utility is now part of the Lulu Island Energy Company, a wholly owned municipal corporation.

In the last 50 years, Richmond's population has doubled, and in less than a generation, the population is expected to increase by an additional 40 per cent. Despite this rapid growth, the city met its PCP targets, reducing emissions by six per cent between 2007 and 2012 (latest reporting year from the province was in 2012) despite a seven per cent growth in population. The city has seen this trend continue with energy emissions from buildings, but does not have recent transportation figures. 

The city has concentrated its efforts on reducing the energy demand from buildings and from transportation. Its community and energy plans are integrated; they focus on transit-oriented development, walkability, building energy efficiency requirements and district energy.

Active train in background (top right corner), with pedestrians crossing street (right to left) and bicycle lane with cyclists. (Credit: City of Richmond)

Key projects and results

District energy at the heart of new developments

District energy systems provide heating and cooling to several buildings from one centralized plant. Systems can be "fuel-flexible" so that they can be adapted over time to use more than one energy source, including renewable energy. The city has set up two district energy systems so far, with plans for major expansions.

For Richmond's Alexandra District Energy Utility (ADEU), a network of underground pipes send water to connected buildings for space heating and cooling as well as domestic hot water, using geothermal energy as the fuel source. The system is now in its fourth plant expansion. Aside from residential customers, it now includes the first Walmart in Canada to be connected to a civic district energy system, an Ismaili temple, and a new combined fire hall and ambulance services facility.

Given the pace of redevelopment in Richmond's City Centre, and after learning lessons while setting up ADEU, the city now requires that all new buildings in the area be constructed with the appropriate mechanical equipment so that they are district-energy ready. "In City Centre, we worked with major developers and eventually a utility partner, sought through a procurement process, to develop the Oval Village District Energy Utility," says Russell.

The city created its Lulu Island Energy Company (LIEC) as a vehicle to partner with the private sector, in order to leverage financing and operations expertise. Richmond is investigating the potential for expanding district energy services throughout City Centre under this model.

Environmental benefits

  • The Lulu Island Energy Company currently operates four energy plants, two of which are temporary, that provide energy to over 3.5 million square feet of residential, commercial and institutional buildings.
  • As of winter 2018, 2,336 tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions had been eliminated in the community. The city estimates that, over their lifetimes, the Oval Village and ADEU will reduce GHG emissions by more than 70,000 tonnes as compared to a business-as-usual scenario. The city has estimated that emissions from buildings connected to the system will be reduced by 70 to 80 per cent at full build out.

Economic benefits

  • Council approved the district energy programs with the requirement that the utility's rates be competitive with other utilities. "Our customers do not pay a premium," says Russell.
  • LIEC calculated that its work would provide an estimated 630 design and construction jobs at build out. Local artists are involved during the design stage to incorporate public art into the energy plant buildings' exteriors. An estimated 10 operating jobs will turn into full-time positions over the duration of the project.
  • One quarter of the city's contractors are headquartered in Richmond, which provides stable employment for the businesses and knowledgeable contractors for the city. Furthermore, as the public learns more about the benefits of district energy, contractors have opportunities to expand their client base.

Social benefits

  • Buildings that connect to district energy systems do not require furnaces, boilers or air conditioning systems, freeing up valuable floor space that can be used for other purposes.
  • Richmond's city council requires that customers' annual energy costs be equal to or less than conventional system costs for the same level of service, in order to provide reliable and secure energy prices.
  • Energy plants include public art, informative signage and/or green building features.

Energy Save Richmond

Energy Save Richmond is the city's umbrella energy-efficiency brand for the wider community. "The branded program includes many incentives that people could take advantage of," says Russell, noting that increasing the scale of energy upgrades in Richmond's existing residential and commercial buildings is critical if Richmond is to achieve its energy and emissions goals.

The city's Building Energy Challenge, for example, saw building owners and managers compete to reduce energy consumption. By collecting energy data and benchmarking a building's performance against others, facility owners and managers saw how their buildings performed. The program also offered training and tips on how to improve energy efficiency. The Climate Smart program, also part of Energy Save Richmond, helps businesses further reduce emissions and costs by offering group training in  energy efficiency, customized reporting and certification. The Richmond Carbon Market invites organizations to submit project plans that reduce GHG emissions by more than 50 tonnes. If approved, the city purchases qualifying credits to offset corporate GHG emissions from city operations.

Environmental benefits

  • The city's first Building Energy Challenge (2014-2015) reduced GHG emissions by 13.5 per cent on average.
  • The city uses ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, a free software program offered by Natural Resources Canada, to benchmark buildings. Benchmarking compares energy data from a given building to its historical performance, or to other similar facilities, and is a proven method to educate and train building owners and facility managers on reducing energy and GHGs.

Economic benefits

  • Between 2007 and 2012, electricity and natural gas consumption in private buildings decreased by 10 and 12 per cent respectively. In 2012 alone, these energy-efficiency gains saved Richmond residents more than $13 million in energy costs.
  • In partnership with the provincial natural gas utility, FortisBC, the city offered a spray valve replacement program for restaurants, which resulted in a savings of more than $200,000 in energy costs.

Social benefits

  • Canadians spend more than 80 per cent of their time indoors. Buildings that have been upgraded to improve energy efficiency (e.g. upgrades to lighting, ventilation and insulation) are healthier for all occupants.
  • Building operators, businesses and residents are more knowledgeable about building energy management.

The charge of the electric vehicle brigade

During the 2015 review of Richmond's Community Energy and Emissions Plan, the analysis revealed that drivers and businesses would need universal use of zero-carbon vehicles by 2025 if the city were to meet its transportation emission reduction targets. "We can't do that without provincial and federal help, but we can certainly implement requirements and programs that help make those big breakthroughs happen," says Russell.

Again, Richmond was an early adopter of policies to promote electric vehicle infrastructure, first by requiring a minimum of 20 per cent of parking stalls in new multi-family developments to provide electric charging outlets, then increasing it to 25 per cent. The city was the first in North America to require that all charging stalls are Level 2, meaning an electrical receptacle is installed and powered, a move that received international attention from electric vehicle advocates and local governments alike. For the public, the city currently offers four Level 2 charging stations. The service is free, to incentivize the use of electric vehicles. However, the city plans to start installing Level 3 chargers, which are faster but also more expensive, and intends to introduce fees. The city fleet currently includes half a dozen electric vehicles. Additional vehicles will be purchased as older vehicles are retired.

Environmental benefits

  • British Columbia generates 95 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources, such as hydro, biomass, and wind. Encouraging the use of electric vehicles, powered by renewable sources instead of fossil fuels, reduces Richmond's community and corporate emissions.

Economic benefits

  • According to BC Hydro, an electric vehicle is more than 50 per cent cheaper to operate than a gasoline-powered car. The electricity costs for a 2016 Nissan Leaf S, for example, are just $400 annually, compared to more than $1,800 for an equivalent-sized gas-powered car.
  • Maintenance of electric vehicles can be as much as one-third cheaper than for gas-powered cars.

Social benefits

  • Electric vehicles emit no harmful pollutants, which results in better air quality.
  • Many automobile components are made from fossil fuels. Some electric vehicle manufacturers are now using bio-based products, such as biodegradable plastics, finishes and paints, which further reduces the use of fossil fuels.


    • To accommodate its fast-growing population and resident needs, the city has had to look for ways to increase density and provide a broader range of housing types and tenures within its urban boundaries. Redevelopment of the City Centre, neighbourhood centres and major roads will help the city respond to part of this challenge.
    • Council directed that customer rates for district energy must be competitive with conventional energy costs, for the life cycle of the equipment and for the same level of service. Project phasing and internal borrowing, coupled with the strategic use of staff resources, allowed the city to meet this challenge.
    • Communicating with different stakeholders can be a challenge, and Richmond targets its messages to their different needs. As one example, for the Richmond Carbon Market, the city calculated that it takes approximately $100 of investment to reduce one tonne of CO2e. To encourage participation in the Market, the city offered $25 per tonne to project proponents, offsetting the cost of energy-efficiency measures. Those costs would be further offset by energy savings. City staff met with several businesses to make sure they understood all the benefits.

    Lessons learned

      • Seize early opportunities. "You don't need all the answers to get started. Trust that your knowledge will grow and your thinking will shift to address concerns or challenges," says Russell. "If you are results-oriented, then one project often catalyzes other actions."
      • You can benefit from partnerships. The City of Richmond worked side-by-side with local developers to grow its district energy utilities. "We saw an opportunity to partner with a developer in a few cases and with the private sector for our City Centre through a public-private partnership," says Russell. "Opportunities like that don't always come to you, so you need to seek them out. Be entrepreneurial." Partners offer value beyond their own resources and expertise, and project risks can also be heavily mitigated using existing municipal regulatory powers and relationships.
      • Take the time to communicate with your partners, community council and staff to build confidence in new energy ventures. It is important to have consistent messaging, highlighting the benefits and addressing community concerns and customer complaints as a priority.
      • Energy utilities are not a core service area for local governments; however, district energy builds on local government utility management expertise (e.g. water and sanitary utilities) and customer service. "We do not consider it a new service, but an extension of the city's utility expertise," adds Russell.
      • Establish a level playing field for private developers. If all developers must have the same pro forma and disclosure requirements, there is less concern about marketing homes that are connected to district energy.
      • Leverage energy utility demand-side management funding. If these programs are not in place, advocate for new funding.

      Other resources

      Milestone Completion:

      Milestone 1– 2006 (Corporate, Community)
      Milestone 2 – 2015 (Corporate, Community)
      Milestone 3 – 2015 (Corporate, Community)
      Milestone 4 – 2016 (Corporate, Community)
      Milestone 5 – 2016 (Corporate, Community)

      FCM's Green Municipal Fund: Richmond received support from the Green Municipal Fund for a variety of projects – among them, the construction of two new energy-efficient fire halls, feasibility studies on the use of solar and waste sewer heat, and the development of an eco-industrial park.


      The following resources can help on your journey to achieving Milestone 5:

      Community Energy and Emissions Plan (2014) and 2017 update
      Energy Save Richmond
      Lulu Island Energy Company
      Richmond's Ecological Network Management Strategy

      Sustainability & Environment
      Sustainability in Action

      Partners and collaborators

      BC Hydro
      Natural Resources Canada's ENERGY STAR program for municipalities
      Corix Utilities Inc.
      Urban Development Institute
      Metro Vancouver (Greater Vancouver Regional District)


      Peter Russell
      Senior Manager, Sustainability and District Energy
      City of Richmond, BC
      T. 604-276-4130  

      Malcolm Brodie
      City of Richmond, BC
      T. 604-276-4123

      Page Updated: 30/07/2018