EPM makes affordable and non-polluting energy available to the community through the La Alpujarra Thermal District, a pioneering project in Latin America to take care of the planet.
“The first thermal district of Latin America is in Medellín,” “Medellín enters the wave of green facades” and “Pilot projects that fight global warming.” This is how the national media informed the world of the start-up of the first thermal district that was built in Medellín, a project providing, since 2016, air conditioning on demand to the buildings of the Medellín Mayor’s Office, the City Council, the Departmental Assembly, the Metropolitan Area and the Colombian Tax and Customs Authority.
“The district was designed to meet two objectives: to efficiently use air conditioning service and to eliminate polluting elements,” says Carlos Arturo Díaz Romero, Natural Gas Vice President of EPM.
The process produces cold water. It is transported to buildings and finally distributes air conditioning for the offices, with an efficient water circulation, without waste, from natural gas and electricity, as primary sources to produce thermal energy.
This achievement was made possible thanks to the EPM Group, with the support of the Economic Affairs Secretariat of Switzerland -Seco-, the Colombian Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, the Presidential Cooperation Agency of Colombia -ACP- and under the coordination of ACI Medellín.
The La Alpujarra Thermal District has a capacity of 3,600 tons of refrigeration. Today, with customers who use air conditioning on demand, it is using 80% of its capacity.
A Success with a Local Seal
The use of thermal districts in the world is quite common, especially for the generation of heat during cold seasons. Switzerland, the United States, China, Denmark and many other nations have adopted this energy efficiency technology to slow down the growth of the carbon footprint.
In Medellín, a meeting of wills made it possible for this thermal district to become reality, with a particular fact: while these districts are commonly used for hotels, hospitals and private buildings in the rest of the world, here, the government sector was the first encouraged to implement this solution. “The customers believed, they bet on it, wanted to do things, waited patiently and now enjoy the results,” says Carlos Arturo Díaz.
From the beginning, there has been interest in replicating the system in other cities of the country, such as Bogotá, Cali, Barranquilla, Cartagena and Bucaramanga. If we consider that 75% of the population in Colombia lives in cities and that almost 70% of these are located below 1,500 meters above sea level, there is much potential for the use of cold, says the EPM vice president of Gas.
In addition to the service, this infrastructure has been designed for the purpose of fulfilling educational and didactic functions so that, in the future, other companies will implement it so that their projects do not start from scratch, but with the knowledge acquired from this first experience.
USD 6 millones en aportes de la Secretaría de Asuntos Económicos de Suiza.
An Environmental Oasis
A differentiating element in this successful case is the urban intervention. Located in a complex area of the city, with high traffic, surrounded by mechanics’ workshops and other businesses, it was a challenge to build an environmentally friendly construction, sustainable and connected to the integral renovation plan of the city center.
Thus, the work was not only of a technological nature, but also on the landscape. This is one of the aspects that amazes foreign visitors, since thermal districts are usually armored or hidden constructions. However, this one in Medellín is visible and stands out like a breath of oxygen in the middle of a highly mobile area.
Its construction is anti-noise, does not require any maintenance by customers and increases the usable space of the building, because it eliminates the need for installation of a chiller or water cooler.
The search to multiply this class of projects, even with other applications, continues. An example of this is under study in Urabá in order to take advantage of residual elements and organic waste to generate energy, in this case cold, for food preservation.
By implementing the district, the project contributes to the commitments of Colombia as part of the Montreal Protocol, to the goals of the Colombian Low Carbon Development Strategy and the Program for the Rational and Efficient Use of Energy. In addition, a seed is sown from a regional scope for the Earth’s preservation.
100% ozone depleting substances eliminated. Between 25% and 30% savings in energy consumption.
“An innovative experience” Jorge Londoño De La Cuesta
Why is the EPM Thermal District a strategic project for the city and for the company? This initiative is part of the growth and search for new products and services portfolio of EPM, which leverages the strategy to favor competitive and sustainable territories based on energy efficiency processes, reduction of operating costs, customer loyalty and reduction of emissions that pollute the environment. This type of initiative drives the development of projects aimed at positioning Medellín as an innovative city.
How do you contribute toward the compliance of the SDGs? The Thermal District of EPM, when generating thermal energy using natural gas as fuel in a high efficiency afterburner system, is friendly to the environment. In addition, it is important to note that, with the implementation of the District in the La Alpujarra sector, 30% of greenhouse gases and 100% of emissions of substances that exhaust the ozone layer are reduced.
What has been the influence of the ACI Medellín in this type of initiatives, as a link between companies and local government institutions and foreign investors? These types of links are important and necessary because they provide security to investors when they see that, through these agencies, resources are directed for the execution of strategic projects for the community that reflect governability in the regions. Through institutions such as the ACI Medellín, it is possible to generate pedagogical scenarios to promote that external agents evidence environmental culture and innovation.