Business Case For Retrofit GeoExchange Systems

A cornerstone of any successful project is its business case. Without a long-term cost benefit to the owner or investors, building projects quickly go the way of the dodo. It’s for that reason that firms such as Fēnix Energy dedicate a lot of their resources towards working with clients to build a strong business case for projects. Both the financial and non-financial benefits of the project are weighed against the total cost, if the figures make sense to the owners, the project is usually commissioned.

Fēnix Energy is currently conducting feasibility studies for several office towers in the Pacific Centre complex in Downtown Vancouver, having previously completed a GeoExchange retrofit in the 19-storey tower at 777 Dunsmuir property in 2014. Project Manager Hart Starr Crawford says a feasibility study usually takes between three and six months for a project this size.

“It depends on how quickly we can get information on the building and access to the building,” says Starr Crawford. “Part of it is dependent on the engineering. If the retrofit is easy to do, the study is simpler. If it’s a little more complex to get everything together, it takes more time to process through it all.”

Some of the factors considered in the feasibility study are the payback, the internal rate of return (IRR) and the different indicators used to analyze the project. To compile an accurate study, Fēnix Energy staff must pour through utility data, drawings and operations manuals and obtain access to digital control systems, mechanical rooms and ventilation spaces.

Yet even with all the benefits and long-term payoffs of installing a GeoExchange system into a building, there are a few key factors that determine whether the project is indeed a feasible upgrade for the  owner.

“If you’re buying an asset, the more you use it, the better it’s going to pay back,” says Crawford. “With a GeoExchange system that can both heat and cool, you want to be able to use it year-round. It costs more than other systems up front, but it’s significantly cheaper to run as well. The best business cases are typically for building with both heating and cooling.”

Another consideration to the business case are factors that are harder to quantify, such as the financial value of simply having a renewable energy system in a building. With a stronger image of sustainability, property owners such as Cadillac Fairview become more appealing in the eyes of potential tenants. Similarly tough to quantify, this can compare to multi-million dollar interior design upgrades that boost cosmetic appeal. Combining the soft benefits with up to a three quarter reduction in heating and cooling, purchasing and installing a GeoExchange system makes good business sense to all parties involved.