Among the 15 OECD countries, only tiny Luxembourg exceeds Canada in per capita energy use, in part because of the way we heat our buildings.
"North America is locked into steam heating, which is very inefficient," says Herbert Sinnock, the manager of Sustainable Energy Systems at Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning.
At Sheridan, an initiative is underway that is designed to upend this paradigm. The project builds on established European models, implementing district energy systems on the college's Oakville and Brampton campuses. In addition to significantly lowering the college's costs and emissions, it serves as a model for much wider emissions reduction and greater fuel-use efficiency.
Mr. Sinnock explains that district energy systems use well-insulated pipe networks to minimize heat loss and make it possible to use a variety of low-carbon sources, such as biomass, biogas and landfill-bound waste. They are extremely flexible, meaning that heat can be added or used at a wide range of points along the systems.
"We're implementing a network that mimics best practice globally," he says. "At the same time, we're engaging neighbouring properties in a discussion about connecting to our network, which involves education about the benefits and working with them to make their systems, buildings and campuses compatible. Before the project is complete, we will have talked with Brampton and Oakville about the first networks for their municipalities."
The college's larger goal is the creation of a model that inspires and helps facilitate replication. "In effect, what we're hoping is that we'll have solved enough of the technical, financial planning and governance issues that it enables others to copy us, whether it's an academic-municipal collaboration repeated all over Canada and North America, a large hospital complex or other institutional sites," says Mr. Sinnock.
Wherever possible, the infrastructure is exposed so that students, contractors and the professional community can study it, and students have also been involved in its construction and design. "It's become this platform for us to do all kinds of education and outreach, and start a transformational process in the students' lives, the professional and trades associations around us, and in our communities," he notes.
"We want to educate people because the end goal is reducing energy consumption and our carbon footprint," says Katherine Rinas, Sheridan's facilities projects technologist.
The data generated by the new systems make it possible to better understand what is required to light, heat and cool the spaces we occupy, where that electricity comes from and how to quantify the impact of our personal decisions, she explains. "That helps make us smarter consumers."
Students take charge by forming student green teams, signing voluntary individual commitments (green pledges, green flags) to sustainable lifestyles.
They are also leading the divestment movement, advocating that endowment funds must be invested responsibly in areas that promote cleaner futures.
See more at gofossilfree.ca.
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