By Brandon Gillet
We’ve all seen the posters around campus promoting sustainable practices and urging us all to reduce, reuse and recycle. But what’s happening behind the scenes to shrink uOttawa’s energy bill and carbon footprint?
Energy use tends to be the nemesis of sustainability efforts. For this reason, Facilities and its Office of Campus Sustainability have pushed hard for years on a multi-pronged campaign that includes introducing green energy technologies as well as undertaking deep energy retrofits of older buildings.
Take Roger Guindon Hall, for example. At 600,000 square feet and with many labs, the facility is expensive to maintain. But a renovation project has resulted in huge energy savings.
“In a deep energy retrofit, we go in and try to reuse the energy we have, cascading it down to a different use and substituting it for expensive purchased energy,” says Pierre De Gagné, director of utilities and campus sustainability.
“Due to the number of critical systems and the research being done in the facility, the Roger Guindon project was probably the most challenging we’ve ever done. We set out to find about $800,000 a year in energy savings but in fact managed to achieve savings of $1 million,” he says.
“Saving 5 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year isn’t easy to do, but we achieved that from retrofits to this one building alone,” De Gagné says, noting that the whole campus runs on just under 90 million kWh a year.
To put these amounts into perspective, according to De Gagné the average home uses as much as 12,000 kWh of electricity a year — meaning the energy saved at Roger Guindon would be enough to power roughly 420 large homes with hot tubs.
One source of savings came from replacing the 150 fume hoods that keep the building’s labs well ventilated. The updated system will be not only much more energy efficient but also far easier to maintain.
“Roger Guindon represents 10% of the space on campus but used to account for about 25% of our energy use,” De Gagné says. “We’ve brought that energy use down by one-third — with the same number of people there, if not more, and all the research going on.
Major savings were also achieved at the Power Plant. After many years of progress through multiple energy retrofits, that facility’s smallest boiler is now a higher capacity than needed for the reduced demand during the summer. Significant energy savings are also expected after work being done this year at Colonel By Hall and the Biosciences Complex.
The campus has more than tripled in size, population and research intensity since 1974, when the University hired its first energy manager, De Gagné says. But current energy use per square metre is now lower than it was more than four decades ago.
“The campus average is slowly migrating toward an annual 1,000 units of energy per square metre of facility space, down from the 3,600 units they were using back in 1974,” he says. “We also have plans to save huge amounts of energy by taking many small steps."
These modest measures with a high impact include replacing older light bulbs with energy-efficient ones and ensuring systems in buildings across campus are turned off when not in use.
The University is also taking part in Ontario’s cap-and-trade market, even though its greenhouse gas emission levels fall below those that would legally require uOttawa to participate.
“The challenge is to reduce uOttawa’s footprint while it’s growing as rapidly as it has been,” De Gagné says. “And your credibility is only as good as the last thing you did!”
In 2016, emissions were 15,386 tonnes, a 30.4% reduction from the baseline tonnage of 22,109 in 2005. This shows the University is on track to achieve its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 34% from 2005 levels by 2020 (which is double Canada’s national target).