UBC reduces labs' energy use, one fume hood at a time

Orion Henderson, UBC's director of operational sustainability

UBC energy manager spearheads lab-versus-lab competition to spark savings

Pop quiz! Which University of BC space do you think uses more energy: A student dorm, a library, a classroom or a laboratory?

If you answered the lab, you'd be right.

UBC's laboratories consume a whopping 10 times as much energy as other spaces on the Vancouver campus, largely because of the more than 1,000 fume hoods in virtually constant use for a variety of experiments.

"Fume hoods are vital safety equipment intended to limit exposure to hazardous chemicals or toxic fumes," says Orion Henderson, UBC's director of operational sustainability. "But they are also energy hogs. In one year, one fume hood can use more energy than three B.C. homes."

That's why Orion and his team launched UBC's Shut the Sash competition last year.

Lab-to-lab competition fuels energy savings

Now in the second year of a two-year pilot, Shut the Sash was developed with the help of the BC Hydro Power Smart Partner Program's Workplace Conservation Awareness initiative.

It works by challenging scientific researchers — including technicians, graduate and undergraduate students, research assistants and post-doctoral fellows — in three UBC lab buildings to remember to lower the glass panel (the sash) on the front of their fume hoods whenever possible.

The lab group that shuts their sashes the most over the six-week competition wins a cash prize.

"We are specifically targeting the researchers who use about 200 variable air volume fume hoods in these labs," says Henderson. "Many simply forget to close their fume hoods when their experiment is done, and that means the fans that supply and exhaust the air are working flat out all the time, even when they don't need to be.

"If you lower the sash, the fan's speed and the volume of air being consumed are also lowered and you save energy. We are trying to see if they can make it a habit to keep fume hoods shut when not in use."

So far, it seems to be working: the labs have achieved a remarkable 80 per cent reduction in average sash height across the board, and Henderson rates the pilot as "very successful." But Shut the Sash is not the only successful energy-saving project he and his team have been involved in over the past few years.

A long-term commitment to energy efficiency continues

According to Henderson, who was appointed UBC Energy Manager with support from the Power Smart Partner Program in 2007, UBC had a high level of awareness around energy conservation even before they became a Power Smart Partner.

"However, working with BC Hydro, we have accomplished much more than we originally thought we could," says Henderson, who oversees a staff of 10, including three dedicated to energy management, developing strategies to improve the university's overall resource efficiency. "It would be very difficult for UBC to mount the programs we have so far without BC Hydro's support and partnership."

Two energy-efficiency initiatives at UBC:

  • In 2007/08, UBC finished the ECOTrek project, which rebuilt and retrofitted the infrastructure of nearly 300 academic buildings, with the help of incentives from the Power Smart Partner Program.
  • Through participation in BC Hydro's Continuous Optimization program, UBC will recommission about 60 of its largest academic buildings by 2015. The target: over 2.8 GWh per year of energy savings in Phase 1 alone. "We are tweaking our building management systems — heating, ventilation, cooling and lighting," says Henderson, "so we can 'tune up' our buildings to an optimal state and then keep them there."

Exploring all Power Smart Partner possibilities

In addition, with help from the Power Smart Partner Program, UBC has:

  • Hired a Community Energy Manager to develop a Community Energy and Emissions Plan for the university, which — with a nighttime population of 14,000 residents and students and a daytime population of 50,000 — is already bigger than many B.C. municipalities.
  • Gone through three comprehensive Energy Management Assessments.
  • Completed five parkade energy retrofits. Since 2005, UBC Parking has reduced energy consumption by 50 per cent, saving approximately 2.4 GWh per year.
  • Implemented a series of Power Smart Partner Express projects to install chiller variable speed drives and increase lighting efficiency. Next project: relamping the Museum of Anthropology.

"Being a Power Smart Partner is a natural fit with our priorities around sustainability," says Henderson. "It's a very important relationship for this university, and I would urge other universities — or really any business — to get in touch with BC Hydro immediately. Their technical expertise and incentives make energy savings a lot easier to find and to realize."

About the Power Smart Partner Program

The Power Smart Partner Program is dedicated to helping commercial, government and institutional organizations that spend more than $250,000 a year on electricity to integrate long-term energy management into their day-to-day operations.

The program includes tools — such as an Energy Study and an Energy Management Assessment — to identify your organization's energy-saving opportunities, as well as support for a full-time Energy Manager and financial incentives for implementing energy-efficiency projects.

To become a Power Smart Partner, contact your BC Hydro Key Account Manager or call 604 522 4713.