SFU students use computer modelling to measure impact of sustainable technologies

November 17, 2021

What impact does technology have on our economy and environment? Third-year students from SFU’s School of Sustainable Energy Engineering (SEE) are applying energy systems modelling to understand the ecological, economic and environmental impact that their technology may have on current and future infrastructure.

In a project-based course titled “SEE 310: Integrated Energy Solutions II,” SEE students are introduced to computer modelling, simulation and optimization of energy systems.

“Modelling energy systems is important to provide an accurate representation of the operational costs, power requirements and impact that a proposed technology has on the environment,” says SEE professor Taco Niet, who teaches the course.

Equipped with technical skills and practical experience gained from the SEE Co-operative Education program, students are put into groups and tasked with a modelling project to simulate various building energy consumption scenarios. Using building energy simulation tools such as eQUEST, they assessed the flow of energy while taking into consideration the building’s, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, as well as the number of residents, open or closed doors at a time and other conditions.

“The aim of the course is to have students really think about the system interconnections throughout their careers in sustainable technology development and how this impacts everything else,” notes Niet.

Each group used original buildings, including detached homes, townhomes and condominiums to compare energy usage with retrofitted or potential technology upgrades to the same building. These include the possibility of electrifying residential homes and personal transportation sector to adding a building envelope.

Their analyses indicate electricity consumption may have a dramatic increase, while gas consumption may decrease. However, implementation of new systems may come at a high cost and require an update to the grid system to meet future energy demands. The results provide insight to help decision-makers to strategically time their financial investment and implementation of new technologies.

The course also introduces students to regulatory and policy frameworks, encouraging them to stay informed when designing and implementing new technologies.

“The SEE program teaches students to be aware of global and local regulatory, and policy frameworks that are in place so they understand the context in which their designs will be used,” says Niet.

“Just as important, having a deeper understanding of these frameworks will also better equip students to advocate for change to implement sustainable technology throughout their career.”

Niet, an expert on energy systems, also works with the United Nations to train international policymakers on using modelling to assess their country’s resource systems and develop strategies to meet their UN Sustainable Development Goals. He will be speaking at the upcoming Canadian Science Policy Conference on how advances in modelling can help create climate policies. The expertise he brings to the course allows students to understand the real-world impact of the techniques they are learning.

“I look forward to seeing how these students will consider energy system interconnections and influence those around them as they go out into the world to build sustainable technology.”

Below are examples of energy modelling projects by SEE 310 students:

Energy Demand of Electrified Residential and Personal Transportation Sectors in Surrey, B.C.

Team: Hannah Chan, Emma Hannaford, Clara (Yoonsoo) Park

Summary: Surrey is moving towards electrifying its residential and personal transportation sectors. Using eQUEST, this project models electricity demand after electrification of townhouses, condominiums, single-family homes and personal vehicles. Results show a large increase in electricity demand when comparing the baseline and electrified scenarios. The output from the model can be used to address grid development to meet electricity demand. View the full summary here.

Comparison Between Conventional and Passive House Certified Apartment Buildings in Metro Vancouver

Team: Danielle Arciaga, Kaylee Meschke, Isaac Yoon

Summary: eQUEST was used to model a five-story apartment building constructed between 1980 and 1990 in Metro Vancouver and a Passive House certified retrofit of the same building. The retrofitted building how an increase in electricity consumption and a decrease in gas consumption. View the full summary here.

Investigating the Energy Consumption, Carbon Emissions and Cost Savings of Retrofitting a Multi-Unit Low-Rise Residential Building in Surrey, B.C.

Team: Taryn Chang, Simran Pandher, Tayme Stewart

Summary: This project investigated changes in energy usage, emissions and costs of retrofitting and electrifying a 1990 low-rise multi-unit residential building in Surrey, B.C. Electrifying the building systems and improving the building envelope can reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. However, the building envelope upgrade comes at a relatively high cost. From the data, installing electric vehicle charging stations may help promote the technology in retrofitted buildings. View the full summary here.