Energy changes: From blue to green

King’s is quietly on track to cut its annual greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent, and water use by 50 per cent, thanks to a partnership with Siemens Canada.

Siemens says that’s the same as taking 85 cars off the road, and saving five and a half Olympic pools full of water, per year.  

Through an energy performance contract (EPC) signed between the university and the building performance and sustainability division of Siemens Canada, King’s will be saving money on energy costs while reducing environmental impacts.

Alex Doyle, director of facilities at King’s, calls the project “crucial to the university.”

“As a university, we’re supposed to be responsible partners in the environment,” he says.

He believes this contract is a first step in the right direction for King’s.  

Energy performance contract

An EPC is an agreement between an energy service company and a client. At King’s, the process began with an energy audit done by Siemens in 2015, wherein the company evaluated our energy use and identified possible efficiency improvements.  

In the spring of 2017, Siemens and King’s signed the EPC, obligating Siemens to do the work outlined in their audit. Siemens also guaranteed a minimum level of energy savings, $135,593 annually, according to King’s bursar Bonnie Sands. If that number isn’t reached, Siemens is responsible for paying the difference.

Siemens engineered, designed and hired contractors to do the work, while King’s managed the project as a whole. Most of the improvements were done over the summer and fall semester, but some are still ongoing, says Doyle.   

Doyle’s waiting for official results to roll in, but says “the numbers are looking really good…we’re going to meet our expectations.”

Environmental impacts

At King’s, the biggest savings will come from retrofits to our heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. In the New Academic Building, Siemens installed a return-air system, so that heat from within the building is recovered instead of wasted.

Our three water-cooled air conditioners, which used city water to cool themselves and then dumped it, were replaced by air-cooled units. That change is a huge part of the 50 per cent slash in water consumption that Siemens projected.

Doyle describes the project as having “touched every inch of the campus.” There’s now low-flow toilets, urinals, shower heads and taps campus-wide, as well as LED lighting.

But, Doyle says, “the bigger part is what you don’t see”—a building automation and control system. Through a central computer program, Doyle can now control and monitor temperatures and systems in every university building.

That’s “the bread and butter” of the system, he says, and it’s what’s still being worked on. With access to our energy use data, Doyle hopes to work out patterns and fluctuations in energy consumption.

Financial savings

According to a guide by Natural Resources Canada, EPCs work one of two ways.  The energy service company can pay for the work to be done, and pocket the savings until the contract ends; or the client can fund the work and recover the full savings.

King’s opted for option two, financing the work through a $1.375 million loan to be paid back over 20 years.

The loan repayments will come out of the guaranteed annual savings of almost $136,000. That means that for the next 20 years, savings will be “slight” says Sands—likely about $20,000 annually, going towards the university’s debt.  

Doyle adds that reduced maintenance costs are another financial bonus coming out of this contract.

Reading the data

For an apparently super-positive project, there’s been little pomp and circumstance surrounding the energy efficiency improvements.

Other than an article on the King’s website from April 2017, a low-key event with Siemens in September, and a poster that was—but is no longer—up in the Link, the student body hasn’t heard anything about the EPC.

Doyle says that’s because the university is still assembling data from the past six months. Once the numbers are in, there’ll be a promotional event, she says.

When those numbers are made official, Anders Hayden has a few insights into what we should be talking about. Hayden is an associate professor in political science at Dalhousie, who teaches courses in the politics of climate change and environment.

To measure the success of a project like this, Hayden points to three indicators:

Absolute reductions—are emissions decreasing below current levels, or projected levels? King’s will see absolute reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, 405 tonnes of CO2 equivalent below current levels.

Cost-effectiveness—are you getting enough emissions reductions for your dollar? At King’s, we’re paying $169.75 per tonne of CO2 equivalent reduced over the next 20 years, not including interest. After that, when the loan is paid off, reductions are free.

Rebound effect—efficiency improvements save money, which gets spent, increasing the amount of energy consumed elsewhere. Hayden is careful to point out that efficiency measures can still be worthwhile, even if some benefit is lost. The direct savings at King’s will be going towards our debt, and not to a new construction project that might increase overall emissions.  

Ties to ecological modernization

Doyle and Sands see the EPC as a win-win solution, benefiting King’s bank account and the environment. That view is linked to a prominent social theory and political program called ecological modernization.

Hayden describes ecological modernization as a perspective that emphasizes technological and efficiency improvements as solutions to the world’s environmental crisis.

Ecological modernization, says Hayden, offers palatable solutions to environmental issues, without raising difficult questions about dominant values in society. It traffics in “win-win” scenarios, where environment and economy both prosper.

Hayden is quick to say that initiatives falling under ecological modernization may still be worthwhile, on a case by case basis.

“On the whole [efficiency improvements] are something that we should be doing more of,” he says.

It’s important to remember, though, that increased efficiency isn’t the end of progress.

“I think we do need to raise some bigger questions about consumer values more generally, the pursuit of endless growth,” Hayden says.

King’s, as a place of learning, may be fulfilling that duty simply by furnishing students with the tools to examine and critique the world around them.