University’s energy reduction experimentation pays off

Posted on Wednesday, March 27, 2013

McGill's Utilities and Energy Management team at the Energia/AMEQ awards ceremony last month. From left to right: François Turcotte, Project Manager, Denis Mondou, Director, and Jerome Conraud, Energy Manager. / Photo courtesy Association québécoise pour la maîtrise de l’énergie (AQME).

Measures have helped lower greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent since 2002-2003

By Julia Solomon

What better place to experiment than a world-class research university? Lately, McGill has been doing some tinkering in an unexpected place – its energy systems. Driven by a desire to reduce energy consumption and use its campuses as a “living lab” for finding innovative solutions to sustainability challenges, McGill has completed a wide variety of projects that have made a real difference to its energy bottom line.

“McGill is one of the largest property owners on the island of Montreal – with many historic buildings – and one of the most research-intensive universities in Canada. This of course has an impact on the amount of energy we use,” says Denis Mondou, McGill’s Director of Utilities and Energy Management, a division of Facilities Operations and Development. “And let us not forget that we live in a climate that has both extreme heat and extreme cold. This reality makes it even more important for us to find ways to conserve energy.”

Starting with a five-year energy management plan, the Energy Management Group set out to make McGill’s energy use more visible and easier to track, installing some 400 real-time energy meters in 70 campus buildings. Data from these meters can be accessed by anyone online. They are also used by McGill’s building managers to ensure that buildings are running as efficiently as possible. This cooperative project won an award from the Association québecoise pour la maîtrise de l’énergie in the Integrated Energy Management Category in February 2013.

Mondou’s group then made sure to seize opportunities. Each time McGill starts a building renovation project, they check to see if it can generate energy savings. The answer is usually yes. Projected energy savings from recent projects involving heat recovery from a data centre, a ventilation upgrade in a chemistry building or upgrades to one of the library buildings range from $100,000 to $300,000 for each project. The team is also auditing buildings around campus to identify conservation opportunities and systematically replacing light fixtures with more efficient models that include motion sensors.

“On the surface, the lighting retrofits seem like a small, common-sense change, maybe something you’ve already done in your home,” says Mondou. “But it makes a big difference. These retrofits result in energy savings of about 80 percent compared to the amount used with the old fixtures.”

The various energy conservation measures and building upgrades implemented over the past few years have resulted in an annual reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of 2,600 tons of CO2 per year. Between 2002-2003 and 2010-2011, McGill reduced its GHG emissions by 20 percent (its current level is less than 40,000 tons annually).

Belief in the important impact of small changes is a theme for McGill’s Utilities and Energy Management group, who have a long track record of working closely with students and other units on campus to find innovative solutions to energy challenges. Examples abound:

· A student-led greenhouse gas audit of McGill’s Food and Dining Services is the first of its kind in North America, seeking ways to reduce energy consumption, water consumption and waste;

· The Shut Your Sash project, funded by McGill’s Sustainability Projects Fund, taught lab users in McGill’s Life Sciences Complex to stop leaving their fume hoods wide open, resulting in an 80 per cent reduction in energy consumption per hood and annual savings for the Life Sciences Complex of $77,000;

· Feasibility studies are underway at McGill’s farm on its Macdonald Campus for a bio-digester that would use manure from the farm to heat buildings on that campus, completely offsetting heating oil and propane consumption;

· Through the McGill Energy Project, an applied student research project, undergraduate students have built an energy systems map for McGill and are developing methods to forecast energy demand on campus and efficiently optimize steam and chilled water generation.

“People look to universities for solutions to society’s challenges,” says Mondou. “There is no single formula for reducing energy consumption, especially at a large and complex institution like McGill. But if we are not willing to take risks, try new approaches and report on what we learn, who is going to do it?”

To find out more about sustainability at McGill, click here.

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