Pipe dreaming

When France gave Renewability Energy its green cred, the Canadian manufacturer gained a foothold in a hot European market for energy-efficient certified buildings

June 30, 2011   by Kim Laudrum

A simple but brilliant device made in Waterloo, Ont. called the Power Pipe reduces water-heating costs for the typical home by 35%, according to Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). That amounts to a big chunk of change.

Not only does RenewABILITY Energy Inc.’s Power Pipe reduce home energy costs for existing and new single-family homes, it also installs in multi-unit residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings, although residential construction accounts for much of the company’s business.

Multiple copper coils wrapped around an inner copper pipe recycle heat from outgoing hot water to preheat incoming cold water. Photo: Renewability

And if recent approvals of the product’s green cred are any indication, that market is about to explode in Europe. France is the first country to grant Power Pipe full Title V System approval, meaning the product actually makes existing buildings and homes 5% to 10% more energy efficient.

In many European countries, it’s necessary to demonstrate a home or building meets strict energy performance targets before a building and occupancy permit is granted. Contractors look for Title-V-approved building supplies to meet France’s mandatory regulation for energy efficiency in new construction. The Power Pipe drain-water heat recovery (DWHR) system, says RenewABILITY, is the only such drain-water heating system so recognized to date.

“There are a lot of Fortune 500 companies that have tried and tried to get this [Title V certification] but haven’t been able to,” says Gerald Van Decker, CEO of RenewABILITY Energy. He credits his distributor in France, Solénove Énergie, for persevering through the various stages of the French application process.

Solénove Énergie is also RenewABILITY’s sole distributor in Quebec, the only region of North America not represented by the manufacturer. The Power Pipe is UL listed in Canada and the US with independent third-party bodies at the University of Waterloo and NRCan having vetted its energy savings claims. In fact, the federal government’s new housing programs allow credits to be claimed for DWHR systems if they meet certain criteria, and some of Power Pipe’s systems are on the list of approved products.

The ecoENERGY Retrofit for Homes program provides grants for eligible DWHR systems, and a number of Power Pipe systems are on the eligibility list.

DWHR systems can contribute to a house meeting the performance requirements for R2000 homes and Energuide ratings. Some provinces also provide rebate and incentive programs for installing systems like the Power Pipe.

Momentum is certainly building in Canada and the US, says Van Decker from the Waterloo plant that currently employs 20 people. That’s thanks in part to programs delivered by Union Gas, Enbridge and Minnesota Power in the US that provide rebates to encourage new construction home builders to install equipment that will reduce water heating costs.

Water heating accounts for 20% of total home energy costs, the second-most costly energy demand in residences, exceeded only by space heating.

“Water heating has largely been overlooked until now. Even more, the huge energy resource in the outgoing drain water has been largely overlooked in some countries,” says Van Decker. “The Power-Pipe can save up to one tonne or more of CO2 emissions per home and much more in buildings.”

Recovering heat
The Power Pipe recovers heat from outgoing warm or hot drain water to heat incoming cold fresh water. In other words, it recycles heat that would otherwise go down the drain.

The patent-pending device is made of an inner copper pipe wrapped by multiple copper coils. It becomes part of the existing drainage plumbing, usually located in the basement. Installation involves cutting into the existing drain pipe and using the supply connectors. The coils become part of the freshwater supply line by diverting water into the power pipe.

As the hot water drains, a thin film of falling water clings to the sides of the pipe and transfers energy from the outgoing warm or hot water into the copper pipe. This heats the temperature of the incoming cold water by 10 to 20 degrees C.

The system works with a heater or a solar water heater in the home.

The Power Pipe, available online through Home Depot and Sears, are priced for residential use between $460 and $1,035. The company suggests the return on investment ranges from 15% to 50% per year.

Van Drecker  says the potential for energy and cost savings is enormous in industrial applications because of the large volume of heated fluids consumed. The Power Pipe recovers up to 70% of waste fluid heat and uses it to preheat fluids before they enter a primary water heater. Typical payback in industry is between two months and two years.

Industrial applications include pulp and paper; brewing; parts washing; food processing; dairy production; textiles; meat packing; baking; and automotive manufacturing. Indeed, the system can be used for any application where a substantial quantity of hot fluid is disposed of, and with a special coating for hostile and corrosive environments. The Power Pipe scales up to large or down to small plants and because it’s a passive system with no moving parts, it requires little to no maintenance.

Would a certification similar to France’s Title V be a good idea here in Canada?

“The system for applying for an energy rating is mixed up here in Canada. We should mimic what they do in France where they use an indexing system and a totally independent body,” Van Decker says. His preference would be to have products such as Power Pipe receive a stamp of approval, similar to the Energy Star ratings system, mainly because incentives and rebates are temporary.

“It’s not about incentives. It’s not about money,” says Van Decker. It’s about being officially recognized for the energy savings.

Kim Laudrum is a Toronto-based writer and editor specializing in sustainability issues. E-mail

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