This blog explores changes in the energy industry from an insider’s perspective as it transitions from the old centralized utility model to the new paradigm of distributed generation.
This blog was previously called Inside the Housing Evolution and focused on energy efficient homes. Ultimately, it’s all linked. Soon, every building will have the potential to generate, store, and sell energy. Welcome to the era of the transactive grid – the greatest shift the electricity sector has seen in over 100 years!

May 6, 2010 No Comments

Integrated Community Energy Solutions

I was recently invited to join 8 other progressive builders from across Canada for a conference to discuss Integrated Community Energy Solutions (ICES).

The concept behind ICES is to look at energy systems on a community scale instead of a building scale for dramatic energy efficiency improvements. ICES are also typically identified as “livable” communities where residential, commercial and even industrial areas are all in close proximity to minimize the dependence on cars.

The conference itself was extremely interesting, and it was great to hear the viewpoints of the other successful developers. We started by looking at examples of ICES in Canada. In Okotoks, Alberta there is a community of R-2000 homes connected to a Solar Thermal Seasonal Storage system, where heat from the sun in the summer is pumped underground and then used to heat the homes in the community throughout the winter. Another example is Dockside Green in Victoria, BC, which is a high-density mixed-use brownfield re-development on the harbour with a biomass gasification district heating system. What we quickly found was that although these examples were amazing engineering successes, from a financial perspective it was hard to make the business case to initiate these types of projects – especially without government subsidies!

We spent the rest of the day looking at the barriers to ICES, and what it would take to get the development community on board. ICES generally require a partnership between a developer, a utility, and the municipality. Juggling the diverse interests of so many partners can be a very difficult task. By the end of the day, we came up with a list of the 9 biggest barriers to ICES development and what we would need to see to overcome these barriers. Here’s the list with a short description of each issue.

Barriers to ICES Development

  1. Government awareness. ICES demands cooperation from municipal, provincial and federal governments. Their support is essential from planning the transportation systems, to removing regulatory codes that inhibit unconventional planning.
  2. Matching benefits to risks. There are many benefits to ICES, however the benefits do not necessarily go to the groups that are taking the risks in developing the communities. For a project to be successful the partners need to look at all the economic and non-economic benefits and share the risks in a way that’s fair for everyone involved.
  3. Stakeholder buy-in. This is a bit of a catch-all category that includes the utility partners, homeowners that would live in the community, industry, researchers, etc. One thing that became clear was that ICES need to focus on energy systems and not try to satisfy every stakeholder’s pet issue, such as affordable housing or homes for people with disabilities. It’s not that these aren’t important goals, but that trying to build a Utopia that solves all of society’s problems isn’t realistic.
  4. Financial Models. For developers to get on board we would need to see detailed case studies showing that the business case makes sense. In some cases new ownership models for the technologies might need to be developed.
  5. Technology viability. ICES incorporates new technologies that have not been proven. We need more R&D and software modeling to show that they will be successful. There is also the risk that new technologies can make today’s solutions obsolete, so we need to consider “future-proofing” the system.
  6. Timing/Planning. Developing a full community can take years, so the timing of defining the partnership, designing the community plan, construction and sales needs to be carefully considered. This issue can be a big problem whenever governments are involved because they tend to move at their own pace.
  7. Coordination/Collaboration. The shear task of coordination between so many diverse partners can be staggering. Who is going to take the lead for each group and effectively plan with all stakeholders?
  8. Regional variation. ICES need to be custom designed to consider local considerations such as Urban VS Rural, weather conditions, location of industry, access to public transportation, etc.
  9. Consumer Acceptance. For this to work, consumers need to want to live there and accept a higher cost for living in an eco-friendly community.

So – will Urbandale be building an ICES anytime soon? Tough to say. On the one hand, we are in a great position to do this because we are already Master-Planning full communities, and I’ve developed great relationships with Utility and Government leaders that want to see this happen. On the other hand… that was a pretty long list of barriers, wasn’t it?! I do feel safe in saying that intelligent and energy efficient community design is a passion of mine, so to me it’s a question of when, not if. I would like to see Urbandale stay as a leader in energy efficient construction, so hopefully we’ll be able to develop an ICES neighbourhood sooner rather than later.

Posted by Matthew


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Matthew Sachs


  • COO of Peak Power since July 2016
  • General Manager of Urbandale Construction (May 2008 – Oct 2014)
  • Vice-Chair R-2000 Renewal Committee
  • Member of Energy Star Technical Advisory Committee
  • Greater Ottawa Homebuilders Green Committee
  • Recipient of Canadian Homebuilder’s Association 2009 R-2000 Builder of the Year Award
  • Participant in Natural Resources Canada’s Technology Roadmap for Sustainable Housing
  • Energy Consultant with Marbek Resource Consultants (Feb 2002 – May 2006)


Peak Power is a Microgrid project development company focused on delivering innovative solutions to offset the most expensive hours of electric demand. We specialize in optimizing the revenue streams from energy storage, advanced building automation, and renewable technologies for customer sited and utility scale projects. Please visit