Toronto cools off using Lake Ontario
Despite one man's crusade, idea gets little respect in
By Dan Egan
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Published July 18th, 2004
When Gerard Friedenfeld turned 60 back in 1984, the Czech
native and Holocaust survivor celebrated with a trip to
France. He never made it to the Louvre.
"Instead of visiting the Mona Lisa - she forgave
me - I visited what I was told was then the world's largest
incinerator of municipal waste," said Friedenfeld,
a retired salesman and amateur inventor from Brown Deer
whose formal education stopped at age 14, thanks to the
What he found at the waste station was a thing of Da
Vinci-caliber beauty. The burning waste fueled a power
plant. Spent steam from the power plant was used to heat
buildings in Paris. Ash from the burned waste was used
in the construction of roads and parking lots.
He had long been interested in finding ways to save energy
and in the 1970s even patented a fuel-saving device designed
to reduce wind resistance on semitrailers. But seeing
the French plant in operation was something of an epiphany.
"Suddenly, it opened my mind to energy conservation,"
he said. "I saw it in action."
That newly opened mind was racing when he returned to
Milwaukee and resumed his regular walks along the Lake
"My God," he thought as he looked out into
the deep blue waters of the big lake one day. "Right
here is the biggest air conditioner in the world!"
That launched a two-decade crusade to persuade Wisconsin
business and political leaders to take a serious look
at his plan to pump cold water from the depths of the
lake and pipe it into Milwaukee-area buildings for air
After 20 years of cajoling - and often annoying - everyone
from utility bosses to congressmen to newspaper reporters
with his cool fixation, Friedenfeld remains convinced
that the concept is worth seriously exploring.
And people still scoff.
"Why are we talking about this?" Margaret Stanfield,
a spokeswoman for We Energies, asked when questioned recently
about whether the utility had considered the concept.
Then she asked if Friedenfeld was behind it.
The whole city.
This week, the Canadians will unveil the machine of Friedenfeld's
dreams, a Lake Ontario-based air conditioning system that
will cool downtown Toronto office buildings.
The mammoth air conditioner relies on three pipes, each
more than 5 feet in diameter, that stretch more than 3
miles into Lake Ontario.
The pipes suck water from a depth of nearly 300 feet,
where on even the hottest days the water remains a constant
39 degrees. Once pumped ashore, it flows to the city's
water treatment plant. From there, it's piped to "heat
exchangers," where the chill from the city's drinking
water is transferred to a separate loop of water used
for air conditioning downtown buildings. The water in
the two systems never mixes; only temperatures are exchanged.
The cooled water then courses through downtown.
The drinking water flows to faucets across the city.
The system cost $169 million (about $128 million in U.S.
dollars), according to Kevin Loughborough, vice president
of major products for Enwave, the company that built the
system. Enwave is jointly owned by the City of Toronto
and an Ontario municipal employees' pension fund.
Talk of expansion
The giant air conditioner will be turned on this week,
and Loughborough said that there is already talk about
expanding a system that, he says, in the long run, will
provide cheaper cooling than traditional air conditioning
systems for towering buildings in the southern part of
It also provides a host of environmental benefits, including
using about 75% less electricity than traditional air
conditioning systems. That will mean a significant reduction
in power demand in the region.
"We'll save at least 35 megawatts of load on the
system," he said.
The cooling system, according to Enwave, will save enough
electricity each year to power 4,200 homes. It also will
reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.
Loughborough maintains that the system will lead to no
appreciable heating of Lake Ontario. He said environmental
studies show the system will cause a temperature increase
equivalent to the heat the lake surface absorbs during
seven seconds of sunshine.
The supply of cold water, he added, will never run out
because it is replenished each winter, when the 39-degree
water sinks from the lake surface to the bottom.
"We're not upsetting the ecosystem whatsoever,"
The project didn't happen overnight.
Plenty of skepticism
It was first proposed more than two decades ago by Toronto
engineer Robert Tamblyn, several years before Friedenfeld
said he got the idea himself.
Friedenfeld, who said he was never motivated by profit,
was among a group that brought Tamblyn to Milwaukee in
1993 to give a talk about the prospect of building a lake-based
air conditioner here.
Tamblyn got a cool reception in Milwaukee.
It was the same case for years in Canada.
"There was a lot of skepticism," Loughborough
said. "It's new, and people have to satisfy themselves
that this is real."
Loughborough said it took more than a decade to study
the feasibility of the project and raise the business
sector support - and money - for it.
"If you can put the pieces together, it just makes
so much sense because it's an energy source on the doorstep
that is continually renewable," he said. "It
uncouples you from the vagaries of traditional energy
Friedenfeld is nothing if not persistent. He says that
back in the 1970s, he wanted so badly to get his first
fuel-saving invention installed on a fleet of semitrailers
that he called the boss at Schneider National Inc. trucking
company in Green Bay to pitch his plan.
He didn't get a call back. So he called again. And again.
He called 36 times. Finally, he said, the secretary felt
so bad for him that she insisted her boss get on the line.
The conversation didn't last long.
Friedenfeld said the words that came through his receiver
went something like this: "No. No. No." Then
the gentleman slammed the phone.
"He couldn't care less," Friedenfeld said.
The patent that he was awarded for the drag-reducing
sleeve that connected a truck tractor to its trailer -
No. 3,834,752 - expired in 1991, 17 years after it was
issued. He never made a dime off it.
"I was a baby in the woods," he said of the
enthusiasm he felt the day his patent was issued. "I
thought the world would beat a path to my door. Wrong."
These days, Friedenfeld does the beating on the doors,
and in the letters to the editor section of this newspaper.
He said that over the last decade he has submitted dozens
of such letters and guest opinions. About 15 of them have
In September 2002, he wrote a guest opinion in the Journal
Sentinel criticizing We Energies' push to build more power
plants. He made the argument that the utilities should
look at using their existing plants to produce more energy
during times when demand is low, and then store that energy
in the form of ice or compressed air.
Much of the letter was dedicated to the concept of exploring
a lake-based cooling system similar to the one about to
be unveiled in Toronto.
He got a response from We Energies bosses the next week.
"I was puzzled when I read Gerard Friedenfeld's
article, 'Lake Michigan offers choice for big savings
on energy,' " We Energies Vice President Scott Patulski
responded in a guest opinion the following Sunday. "Obviously,
either Mr. Friedenfeld hasn't been paying attention or
we haven't been boasting enough."
Patulski went on to trumpet his company's off-peak ice
production projects at three of its power plants. He talked
about plans to use Lake Michigan water to cool the air
intake at a refurbished Port Washington power plant. He
talked about We Energies' use of steam from one of its
plants; it is pumped into 43 miles of pipes and it provides
heat for buildings all across downtown Milwaukee and the
County Grounds in Wauwatosa.
But he didn't address the thrust of Friedenfeld's letter:
Why not look at using Lake Michigan to directly cool downtown
Milwaukee on scorching summer days?
Friedenfeld maintains that such a plan would not be simple
to accomplish. And perhaps it isn't even doable. All he
wants is for someone with more technical expertise than
he to take a hard look at it.
"My education ended when I was 14," he said.
That's how old he was when he fled with 135 other children
from Czechoslovakia to London. He never attended school
again. He never saw his parents again.
"Hitler ended my education. Or he gave me an excellent
education, because I've had to scrounge for it,"
'Idea worth considering'
Jim Lubner, education coordinator for the University of
Wisconsin's Sea Grant Institute, said Friedenfeld might
be on to something, though he is doubtful Milwaukee could
access deep, cold water as close to shore as Toronto has
been able to.
"He's not out of line on this," he said. "If
you have a source of cold water that you can count on
when you need it, it's not a bad idea. It's at least an
idea worth considering, and doing the cost-benefit analysis."
It is an idea that is already working in the United States.
New York's Cornell University now employs a similar $60
million system that draws water from nearby Cayuga Lake
to chill buildings across the Ivy League campus.
Closer to home, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
draws Lake Michigan water to help cool campus buildings,
though the system is different from the one built in Toronto.
Andrew Nelson, UWM's director of physical plant, said
the Lake Michigan water is piped from relatively close
to shore, so it comes in at an average temperature of
60 degrees, much warmer than the 39-degree source Toronto
has tapped. Therefore, it is used only in the condensing
phase of the refrigeration process for the school's central
"There is no refrigeration cycle in Toronto,"
Nelson said. "It's a direct heat exchange."
Making a difference
When Canadian engineer Tamblyn was brought to Milwaukee
back in 1993 to make a presentation on Toronto's plans
for a lake-based air conditioner, an official with what
is now We Energies said the idea had been studied, and
that while it may have made sense for Toronto, it didn't
make economic sense here because costs for electricity
production are cheaper here than in Canada.
A decade later, electricity rates have climbed, and We
Energies is looking at spending billions on new power
While We Energies spokeswoman Stanfield called Friedenfeld's
lake-cooling plan "an interesting concept,"
the utility isn't likely to pursue it anytime soon.
"I'm not exactly sure who the entity is who would
make this happen," she said. "We're in the electricity
and natural gas business."
Right now, that entity appears to be Friedenfeld. He
remains optimistic that Milwaukee will one day seriously
explore his idea, hopefully in his lifetime. He turns
80 later this year.
"One person can make a difference, in the right
place and at the right time," he said.