Western will slash its carbon emissions with the installation of a new electric boiler to generate steam for heating and hot water.
Nearly $4.75 million in federal funding from carbon tax proceeds will help the university replace one of its natural gas boilers with an electric version.
The boilers produce high-pressure steam that heats buildings on campus and provides hot water for washrooms, kitchens and laboratories, including sterilization equipment. Western also supplies steam to University Hospital.
“This is an impactful and system-wide greenhouse gas-reducing project and big step for us,” said Andrew Konowalchuk, associate vice-president of facilities management.
“It will help us achieve our commitment to reducing emissions 45 per cent by 2030 and then, by 2050, achieving net-zero emissions on campus.”
A greener heating system
Five traditional boilers have been installed at Western since 1963, together now producing 300 million kilograms (650 million pounds) of steam every year.
The five-boiler heating system, which currently uses natural gas, is responsible for 75 per cent of the university’s carbon emissions. The power plant that houses them marked 100 years in 2022 and will play a big role in Western’s path toward net-zero emissions by 2050.
Steam from electric power slashes greenhouse gas emissions by more than 80 per cent over natural gas production, which would help cut thousands of tonnes from Western’s total emissions.
Western, McMaster University and York University are all receiving federal funding from the Decarbonization Incentive Program, which funnels carbon tax proceeds to clean technology projects. McMaster, where the funding was announced on July 13, is also replacing natural gas boilers with electric.
“The Government of Canada is investing pollution pricing proceeds in innovative projects that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and shape a low-carbon world. This important and transformative work is happening right now at Western University, which is receiving over $4 million in funding through the Decarbonization Incentive Program. By transitioning from greenhouse gas-emitting boilers to electric steam boilers, Western University is embracing sustainable practices and contributing to a cleaner environment for Canadians,” Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault said.
Sustainability is a top priority for Western and a key pillar in its strategic plan, Towards Western at 150.
Efforts to reduce carbon emissions are taking shape across the university, from new electric vehicle charging stations to adopting renewable energy sources like the solar panels atop the Amit Chakma Engineering Building to the Deep Energy Retrofit Program that improves the efficiency of older buildings and redistributes excess heat through an energy loop.
The Ronald D. Schmeichel Building for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, currently under construction, will be Western’s first net-zero building. It will feature solar panels, triple pane windows and a geothermal heating and cooling system.
“Our goals require our new capital projects to go further than they ever have before,” Konowalchuk said.
“We must also reimagine existing building systems at the campus level and individually in our nearly 100 buildings. To reduce our utility consumption campus-wide, we are implementing deep energy retrofits, optimizing our systems in these buildings. These innovations are resulting in approximately 60 to 80 per cent reductions in emissions in each building.”
Western has also pledged to achieve a sustainable investment portfolio through a long-term decarbonization effort. The overarching goal includes a short-term target to invest 10 per cent of Western’s operating and endowment fund in sustainable strategies by 2025.
Big production potential
The electric boiler is expected to produce roughly 40 per cent of the university’s steam, or about 120 million kilograms annually. Design work will begin soon and installation is planned to start in 2024.
“This is a sixty-year-old boiler we’re looking to decommission. Anywhere we have that ability to replace aging infrastructure in a way that’s also aligned with our carbon reduction goals, it’s a win-win.” – Andrew Konowalchuk, associate vice-president of facilities management
The total budget for the electric boiler is $16 million.
The addition of a new electric boiler helps to safeguard Western’s system to ensure unexpected repairs can be handled without impacting the flow of heat and hot water to campus and University Hospital.
“We take great care in operating a resilient and reliable district heating and cooling system, and our facilities team is committed to integrating new and innovative systems to meet our greenhouse gas reductions targets at the same time,” Konowalchuk said.