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UBC uses campus as a living laboratory for energy efficiency

Image of Orion Henderson, UBC
UBC's director of operational sustainability Orion Henderson is integrating building operations and academia to enable new approaches to campus sustainability.

Faculty, staff and students test new approaches to sustainability, right on campus

The University of British Columbia's Vancouver campus is a community complete with everything from residential to commercial space, from offices to production space. With so much diversity, it's an excellent place to test energy efficiency strategies and equipment.

UBC has seized that experimental opportunity by integrating operations and academia to use the campus as a living laboratory. This allows faculty, staff, students and UBC's partners to use the university's infrastructure, education, and research capabilities to test and implement new approaches to sustainability.

Measuring what you manage means building operations get better

UBC has worked with BC Hydro's Power Smart Partner program on many energy innovations and upgrades. With incentives available through the program, university staff have upgraded the HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] systems at 12 sites, and completed coil cleaning projects in 85 buildings so far.

Cleaning the coils improves heat transfer and allows air to move more freely so that HVAC fans use less energy circulating air around the building.

Through BC Hydro's Continuous Optimization Program, staff ensure that there is good energy measurement to support energy management. The program focuses on continually improving a building's level of efficiency through use of an energy management information system.

"Optimization is the next step after you've upgraded some of the key equipment, such as lighting and HVAC," says Orion Henderson, director of operational sustainability for the campus. "The program allows UBC to continuously monitor, target and report energy performance in all our large buildings on campus."

Pilot project lights the way to energy savings

In the spirit of combining research and operations, UBC is conducting a pilot lighting study in the Forestry Sciences building to determine a comprehensive lighting retrofit strategy for all the major buildings on campus.

"The study is going to determine what kinds of energy saving strategies could be achieved with lighting in existing buildings, in terms of changing lamps and automated controls," says Henderson. "BC Hydro is helping fund the research, and contributed to developing a new set of technical guidelines which will guide the strategies employed by the study."

If the study is successful, UBC plans to roll it out to other buildings on campus.

Meanwhile, the Museum of Anthropology recently received a lighting upgrade that demonstrates the kind of multi-tiered, holistic improvement the lighting study is seeking.

The new lighting is more energy efficient and has better aesthetics for museum visitors. In addition, replacing the infra-red emitting display case lights with LEDs will go a long way to maintaining the integrity of the very valuable and irreplaceable contents.

Hard work pays off — in energy savings

All of UBC's hard work is paying off. Since 2011, the university has reduced its energy use by 7.6 GWh, enough to power approximately 700 homes per year. Henderson credits BC Hydro with helping them achieve such success.

"BC Hydro is a key partner for sustainability at UBC," says Henderson. "Technical experts from BC Hydro help us determine the most effective technologies, and BC Hydro's incentive programs allow UBC to target conservation measures with longer paybacks."

New construction demonstrates rigorous design

In terms of efficiency and sustainability, all of UBC's new construction projects are rigorously designed to achieve LEED Gold certification and high energy performance.

Two of the newest buildings on campus, the Earth Sciences building, and the new Pharmaceutical Sciences building, are cases in point. (Another building, the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability, has already been certified LEED Platinum.)

The Earth Sciences building opened in September 2012. Among other highly efficient features, it has a novel energy sharing technology, called a Thermenex system.

"Thermenex uses the heat rejected from cooling in one part of the building to provide space heating in other areas," says Henderson. "This will be especially valuable in the shoulder seasons when there is concurrent heating and cooling in the building."

The Pharmaceutical Sciences building also has an innovative heating system, deriving all the building's heating energy from a large data centre.

"We want to do more than just what's right for operating our campus," says Henderson. "We want to help students and faculty to teach, learn and research and show true leadership in campus sustainability."