Canadian Consulting Engineer

Catalysts for Change

December 1, 2011
By By Bronwen Parsons

Across the University of Toronto's downtown St. George campus are 120 large buildings -- over 12 million square feet of space -- all consuming energy. The buildings range from heavy masonry Victorian structures like the venerable Mining...

Across the University of Toronto’s downtown St. George campus are 120 large buildings — over 12 million square feet of space — all consuming energy. The buildings range from heavy masonry Victorian structures like the venerable Mining Building on College Street, to sleek glass boxes such as the Pharmacy Building at the corner of University Avenue.

To walk from one side of the campus to the other takes about 20 minutes. The site is threaded with busy streets and narrow laneways, some of which are owned by the university. There are shady paths, wide open sports fields, and secluded courtyards. Like many of Canada’s universities, the campus represents a quiet oasis in the heart of the teeming city.

But Canadian university and college campuses are becoming much more. They provide an almost ideal incubator for developing ways of making our buildings and cities more energy efficient. The campus is like a mini-town, with many different types of buildings and facilities — but all under one owner. Generally there is one department in charge of buildings and facilities and those people work under a ruling administration that is relatively free of political and other constraints. So it can be easier to reach decisions about building in a sustainable way in the campus environment than in the messy “real” world outside.

In recent years there have been plenty of opportunities to push the green agenda. Massive building programs have taken place at campuses across Canada, helped by federal and provincial funding programs and large private donations. The University of Calgary, for example, has undergone a 30% expansion of its built area since 1990.

Universities also have the right motivation. Campuses are occupied by people who are the most idealistic, most aware of global issues, and therefore most likely to be concerned about having buildings reduce their impact on the environment. The College Sustainability Report Card (“Green Report”) is published by the Sustainable Endowments Institute out of Cambridge, Massachusetts. It evaluates over 300 of the largest campuses across the U.S. and Canada, giving them an A to F grade. Three Canadian universities graduated with an A grade in 2011: University of British Columbia, University of Calgary and the University of Toronto. Others, McGill, Queen’s, McMaster, York, Laval and the University of New Brunswick, scored the average grade B.

Emily Flynn, manager of special projects at the Sustainable Endowments Institute, says that university campus buildings are “definitely” leading the way in energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gases. “Colleges and universities are leaders of innovation in our society and can more easily test out the successes of new practices and ideas on their campuses before they can be embraced by the wider society,” says Flynn.

Nancy Knight, associate vice president of campus and community planning at the University of British Columbia, agrees: “Yes, the university sector in North America has been very keen in tackling sustainability issues. And UBC has definitely been in a leadership role.”

The movement is gaining momentum. Flynn points out that in 2006 when the Green Report began, 22% of institutions reported having a green building policy. In the 2011 edition 79% of the schools surveyed had enforced such a policy. In five years the trend had moved from one-quarter to the majority.

Since 2008, the presidents of 28 post-secondary institutions across Canada have signed the University and College Presidents’ Climate Change Statement of Action for Canada. Joanne Perdue, an architect and the director of sustainability at the University of Calgary, explains that in signing on to the statement, institutions commit to catalyzing solutions to address climate change both in their operations and also in the teaching and research they undertake. In the U.S. a similar declaration of intent has been signed by approximately 700 presidents. “So when you put all of that together and look at the critical mass of universities that are working on this basis, it is really quite powerful and exciting in terms of the potential impact,” says Perdue.

Making buildings work together as systems

What specifically are Canadian universities doing? Knight lists a host of different projects at UBC that are reducing its carbon footprint. The university’s target is to become carbon neutral by 2050. It has already exceeded the targets of Kyoto — the international agreement on greenhouse gases of 1990 that really started things moving in the green movement. UBC is now on track to reduce emissions by 33% below 2007 levels by 2015. (The university is technically carbon neutral now due to buying carbon offset credits as mandated by the provincial government.)

In terms of individual buildings, the university’s most recent green building showcase is the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability, or CIRS that opened in November. Designed by Peter Busby of Perkins + Will, with consultants that include Stantec and Fast + Epp, the $23-million, 5,700-m2 building is so green it is set to exceed LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge standards. “CIRS is a new building that is pushing [beyond] LEED Platinum into how you can build regenerative buildings,” says Knight.

One feature that Knight finds particularly interesting is that CIRS uses heat harvested from the roof of an older laboratory building next door. The system is so effective, there is enough spare heat left over for CIRS to recycle it back to the older building!

Making buildings work together as systems in this way could be the wave of the future: “It is a great example of what you could do in an urban context,” says Knight. Sometimes it doesn’t make economic sense to refurbish a building envelope, she suggests, “so maybe another approach is to look at capturing the waste heat that is coming off them and reusing it in an adjacent building.” Whereas to date the discussions around green building have focused on standalone structures, “now there is a lot of discussion about how you can link buildings in systems,” says Knight.

University campuses are perfect for pioneering such building networks since they own the land and contiguous buildings, and generally they own the infrastructure.

Energy infrastructure — the bonanza

Many campuses have district energy systems with a central plant that produces heat and hot water for all the buildings. Converting these plants to cogeneration units represents a bonanza for universities in reducing their carbon emissions. The University of Toronto added cogeneration to its 100-year old central steam plant on Russell Street 18 years ago. The plant now supplies 6 MW of the 30 MW peak demand on the St. George Campus. A flue heat recovery system was added to the plant in 2000.

The University of Calgary’s Climate Action Plan has set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2015, and by 80% by 2050. The university is on track to meet the 2015 milestone, thanks in big part to a recent upgrade of its main campus central heating and cooling plant to co-generation technology. The new natural gas-fired system will generate about 80% of the campus’s total electrical demand, while the system’s recovered energy is being used to heat the buildings. Stantec were the consulting engineers.

Perdue explains that because Alberta’s electricity grid is largely supplied with coal-fired energy, the university’s switch to on-site electricity generation represents a “significant drop” in its greenhouse gas emissions. Annual reductions are anticipated to be 80,000 metric tonnes. “Additionally, the cost savings are expected to be in the neighbourhood of $3.5 million per year,” she says.

And at the University of B.C. construction is under way on a 2-MW biomass cogeneration plant. When it’s completed, the Bioenergy Research and Demonstration Project will reduce the campus’s greenhouse gas emis
sions by 4,500 tonnes, amounting to one-third of its goal of 33% reductions by 2015.

UBC is also in the throes of an $85 million project to convert its 1920s district heating system from steam to hot water. The work means replacing 14 kilometres of pipe and installing new heat exchangers in individual buildings.

Using steam for space heating in buildings is a real mismatch, explains Knight. “It is just way more energy than what you need for a low grade energy requirement such as space or even hot water heating. It’s like using a chainsaw to cut a piece of bread.” With a hot water system the campus will be able to incorporate renewable energy sources such as geothermal or sewage heat — something that is not possible with steam.

The University of B.C. calls itself a “Living Lab,” and freely shares data on new systems it installs. It also provides educational tours to visiting professional groups and local communities. “There are other folks that have steam systems that will follow our experience and want to see how the technology works out, whether the costs came out as projected, and so on,” says Knight.

Industry benefits too, since many of the campus energy projects are done in partnership with the private sector, helping to further corporate research. Nexterra and GE are partners in the biomass project, for example.

Harnessing the earth and solar energy

Universities are also introducing renewable energy sources such as geothermal fields and photovoltaics to their buildings. They are able to take advantage of the close-at-hand installations to do field research into the effectiveness of these relatively new building technologies. At the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Whitby, for example, a large geothermal field of 370 boreholes 180 metres deep was installed in 2004. It is now used by the university to do research on the technology.

At the University of Calgary, the Child Development Centre, a LEED Platinum project completed in 2006, has a 65,000 kWh photovoltaic array on its south side. Dr. James Love, a Canadian leader in building energy engineering and a professor at the university, works with students doing post-doctoral research on the PV panels’ performance, as well as other building features like displacement ventilation.


A million in savings, for virtually no capital investment

What is also making a huge difference at campuses is their adoption of multi-million dollar programs to upgrade their existing building stock.

Under the University of Calgary’s Energy Performance Initiative, three programs have so far been completed to upgrade existing buildings. Perdue explains that the first two phases addressed “the low hanging fruit, which involved changing things that are easy to access such as the variable speed fans, controls, and relamping.” The second phase, which finished in March this year, included a $15-million investment with a $3-million a year payback — “a very robust return on investment,” says Perdue. The program is projected to reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 29,000 metric tonnes.

In phase three the university concentrated on adjusting operating hours. “Sometimes the older buildings are not zoned in the same way that new buildings are,” says Perdue. “So, for example, you may have a lot of systems on because there might be one night class taking place. We also found a lot of systems on after hours when buildings were minimally occupied.”

“For essentially no capital investment we came up with approximately $1 million in annual savings through optimizing operating hours,” says Perdue, “and a reduction of about 8,000 metric tonnes in annual greenhouse gas emissions.”

The university is currently planning phase four of its energy performance initiative. It will delve deeper into retrofits and will include a re-commissioning program and an enterprise-wide energy management system.

The University of B.C. has been chopping its emissions through a massive $120-million “UBC Renew” program. Funded 50% by the provincial government, UBC Renew involved energy upgrades to 40,000 gross square metres of academic buildings: “maybe a quarter of our older building stock” says Knight. And the University of Toronto has saved $500,000 in each of the last two years in energy and water expenses by optimizing the operation of its buildings. The savings have come through upgrades such as adding comprehensive metering, variable speed drives and new exterior and interior lighting.

Campus sustainability efforts aren’t confined to energy programs, of course. There are successes in saving potable water, reducing waste and using recycled building materials.

At Simon Fraser University in B.C. an entire sustainable community is being built on the side of Burnaby Mountain. UniverCity has 3,000 residents already and plans for 10,000. It preserves natural habitat and it manages all of its stormwater run off with detention ponds and bioswales. It also includes affordable housing and gives incentives for green roofs and energy efficiency. Its latest idea is to have a public transit gondola to whisk commuters to and from the mountain.

Education programs to persuade students to buy into conservation are also a big part of campus sustainability efforts. At the University of Toronto, the campus facilities office has designed a kiosk with an interactive, touch-screen that displays energy savings data and monitors in real time a building’s energy performance. The first kiosk is installed in the Exam Building, a renovated 19th-century warehouse just south of College Street.

On a dreary day in October the anxious students hovering in the lobby before going in to take their examinations seemed more intent on snatching a few last moments with their text books than paying attention to the energy kiosk. Yet it is the entire future of these younger generations that the green building advocates on campus have in mind. cce

photo caption, page 19

Right: informal central seating area at the Energy, Environment and Experiential Learning (EEEL) building, completed this year on the northern edge of the University of Calgary. The 25,000-m2 building is adjacent to public transit and is designed for LEED Platinum certification. Its energy saving features include a cast-in-place concrete structure with concrete made with 30% flyash, mechanical systems such as displacement ventilation, a highly efficient building envelope, and use of 100% green power. Housing undergraduate classroom and laboratory space, the building also provides administrative and research spaces for the university’s new Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy.

Architects are Perkins + Will and DIALOG, structural engineers are RJC and Dialog; mechanical engineer is Dialog; electrical engineer is Stebnicki + Partners; civil engineer is AECOM, building envelope engineer is Building Envelope Engineering.

Image courtesy of Perkins + Will Canada Architects Co.


photo captions page 20

Left: exterior of the EEEL building at the University of Calgary. The building envelope has specially shaped aluminum spandrel panels to capture sunlight and brighten the facade. Some spandrels are rotated downward to direct daylight into exterior spaces such as an adjacent plaza.


Right: the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability, or CIRS, building recently opened at the University of British Columbia. The 5,700-m2 building is so green it is set to exceed LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge standards. Its wood structure includes pine-beetle killed lumber (which is currently B.C.’s largest source of carbon emissions). It incorporates renewable energy technologies and it treats wastewater on site. Every workspace is daylit and is naturally
ventilated. The design team includes: Perkins + Will Canada (architect), Fast + Epp (structural), Stantec (mechanical-electrical), Core Group (civil),

Morrison Hershfield (building envelope),

Eco-Tek, NovaTec (water).


Image courtesy of Perkins + Will Canada Architects Co.



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