Members of SFU's energy committee team.

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Six ways SFU is reducing its carbon footprint

April 20, 2018
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With its spectacular postcard setting, nestled among the trees of Burnaby Mountain, Simon Fraser University looks every bit the picture of a green university.

And behind the scenes, a team of engineers is working hard to make sure it is – optimizing energy and water consumption on campus to help meet SFU’s ambitious carbon reduction targets.

Overall, the university’s goal is a 2 per cent reduction in energy use per year by 2021 (for scale, 2 per cent is the equivalent energy consumption of the Education Building). SFU aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 33 per cent by 2020 and by 80 per cent by 2050 (using 2007 as a base year).

Bernard Chan, energy manager with SFU’s Facilities Services, leads the team trying to reach those goals.

“It can only be approached by a holistic energy plan,” said Chan, who has been part of the Energy Committee group for six years and in his current role for one.

“You first look at reducing your energy consumption as much as possible, trying to eliminate any of the energy waste – if we don’t need it, why use it.”

SFU’s energy management program started in the 1980s. In 2010, the university further committed to reducing energy consumption by 2 per cent a year.

In 2016, SFU had achieved a greenhouse gas reduction of almost 23 per cent below the 2007 baseline, with total estimated reductions of 1.1-million kilowatt hours of electricity and 7,500 gigajoules of natural gas.

In addition to eliminating energy waste, the university is also upgrading infrastructure. LED fixtures, for example, use 50 per cent less energy than the ubiquitous fluorescent tubes (and 80 per cent less than incandescent lighting). Replacing mechanical systems like boilers and pumps also improve efficiency, but at much higher capital costs.

While early energy efficiency gains were comparatively easy, Chan explained, there is a diminishing return on investment. Getting more and more efficient becomes increasingly challenging – and expensive. The university has addressed this through a Sustainable Utilities Revolving Fund (SURF) for projects that require high capital funding.

The final prong in SFU’s plan is energy supply, something the university has addressed with a new, clean biomass plant on the mountain. The $33-million Burnaby Mountain District Energy Utility runs on clean urban wood waste and will serve SFU and UniverCity residents when it begins operation in 2019.

In honor of Earth Day (Apr. 22), here are six ways the university is reducing its carbon footprint.

1) Demand controlled ventilation

Buildings at SFU were designed for a “worst-case scenario” in terms of occupancy, Chan said. For example, a 300-seat lecture theatre was designed with heating and ventilation for more than 300 people – all the time – even when the room is under-utilized, or empty.

But with advancements in technology, SFU is installing carbon dioxide sensors in classrooms to gauge how many people are in a room at any given time and automatically adjusting the ventilation and heating to an appropriate level. When the sensor detects an increase in CO2, Chan explained, the outside air dampers open, venting more fresh air into the space.

2) Retrofitting lighting

SFU has been fairly ambitious in retrofitting light fixtures with energy saving LED tubes.

“Nowadays the technology is getting to a point that the market is there to support the replacement,” Chan said.

The majority of the lights in the Library, Maggie Benston Centre, and West Mall Centre have been replaced with LED technology. Upcoming projects will see lighting replaced in the biology and physics areas of the Shum Science Centre. Chan said he’d like to see every fixture on campus replaced by LEDs within the next eight years.

3) Energy dashboard system

SFU has developed a dashboard system to track the energy usage in each building in real time. This means that if there is an abnormal energy consumption detected the team can investigate it right away.

“If we see something like that, we try to investigate as soon as possible,” Chan said.

4) Freezer replacement in the Faculty of Science

Facilities Services recently partnered with the Faculty of Science to purchase six energy efficient super-cold freezers (-80 C) that are used to freeze samples for research.

The new freezers use about 70 per cent electricity than their predecessors. And, because the systems are more efficient, they inject less heat into the room, meaning less energy to cool the room in the summer.

“It’s not a huge energy savings for us, but it’s a successful example of partnering with the SFU community,” Chan said.

5) Dynamic glass

According to a study by Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium, record-breaking summers will be the new normal due to human-influenced climate change. So rather than install energy-using cooling systems for the hot summer months, SFU tested a pilot project last year that saw dynamic glass installed in the math department.

In the summer, sensors on the roof of the building detect the amount of incoming solar radiation and tint the glass, rejecting much of the heat from the sun’s rays.

Based on feedback and data collected it’s possible that similar dynamic glass systems could be installed at other hotspots on campus.

6) Water conservation

SFU has replaced most of the showerheads in the student residences with water-efficient fixtures. The project further reduces the water consumption by about 8,000 m3 and greenhouse gas emissions by 90tCO2e. Facilities Services now plans to replace washroom fixtures across the campus with more efficient versions.

FACT BOX: SFU, a carbon neutral university

Like other public universities in British Columbia, SFU is considered carbon neutral because it follows the mandated process:

1.    Measure greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from buildings, vehicles and paper use

2.    Reduce emissions by conserving electricity and fossil fuels

3.    Offset remaining emissions by purchasing an equivalent amount of high-quality, made-in-B.C. carbon offsets

4.    Report annually on progress through the Carbon Neutral Action Report (CNAR)

5.    Verify data and emissions