Simon Fraser University Strives to be Top of the Class in Energy Saving

Over the past several years SFU has executed over 100 energy-saving initiatives, and saved $400,000 annually through working with BC Hydro.

When Simon Fraser University enlisted architect Arthur Erickson to create its Burnaby Mountain campus in 1965, his vision was to build a campus of the future. 
Indeed, Erickson proved up to the challenge. SFU’s striking Modern architecture was known as the “instant university” and it has stood the test of time—at least design wise. Bringing the sprawling campus in line with 21st century energy-saving needs, however, has proven a challenge of a different sort.
After tackling much of the “low-hanging fruit”—such as swapping out fluorescent light bulbs for more energy-efficient models—the university found it needed some help to bring its energy saving efforts to the next level. Through an ongoing partnership, BC Hydro has helped SFU develop a strategic approach to reducing energy consumption, while assisting with consultants, energy studies, cost estimates and financial incentives for energy-efficient projects.
“Those incentives have allowed SFU to undertake programs that otherwise would have been prohibitively expensive,” says Ron Sue, the university’s energy manager. “It would be very difficult, because the payback period would be too long,” he adds.
Under the partnership the university is obligated to take on projects with an estimated payback period of two years or less (those with a longer timeline are optional for the university). However most longer-term projects are taken on, Sue adds, since the program’s incentives and future savings make them cost-effective for the university. In addition, connection with BC Hydro’s Alliance partners—contractors, engineers and consultants—make it easier and cheaper to put the pieces in place.
The result? Many projects the university once considered out of reach have been completed over the past five years. Since 2009, SFU has implemented more than 100 energy-saving initiatives across 17 buildings.
“As a public sector organization, SFU is mandated to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions,” says SFU’s energy specialist Bernard Chan. “One of the most direct ways to do that is of course to reduce energy consumption.” 
But that’s no easy task in a sprawling concrete campus consisting of dozens of aging buildings. “Some of the buildings are from the ’60s or the ’70s, so some of the technologies are not compatible with existing systems,” says Chan.
As challenging as it is working with older infrastructure, SFU has upgraded outdated electrical control systems, replaced five aging boilers with three high-efficiency models in its Discovery buildings, and installed carbon dioxide sensors in lecture halls and classrooms. That last move is a clever way to gauge occupancy in certain areas on campus and adjust energy levels accordingly.
“Normally, when engineers design a building, the mechanical system is always designed to satisfy the maximum number of occupants in the area,” explains Chan, whose position is partially funded by FortisBC. In reality, those areas are seldom at maximum capacity. “As a result it’s always over-ventilated and we’re wasting our energy.”
Most recently, SFU’s involvement with BC Hydro has allowed the university to complete a lighting retrofit in the Lorne Davies Complex – East & Centre Gym. The project saw the facility’s 32  – 1,000 watt Metal Halide lamps replaced with 32 – 400 watt LEDs for an estimated savings of 115,200 kilowatt hours per year. That’s about $8,000 in energy costs, says Sue.
In all, Sue says SFU has invested $1.1 million in energy retrofits under the partnership with BC Hydro, and reaped savings of $400,000 annually. Since 2013, the university has reduced its energy consumption by nearly 3.5 million kWh – that’s enough energy to power about 300 homes every year.
But benefits go beyond the balance sheet, Sue adds. LED lights make SFU’s athletic facilities more inviting and user-friendly, since they can be turned on and off manually or by motion sensors. As well, BC Hydro’s investment in behavioural change through its Workplace Conservation Awareness program means SFU has been able to educate more than 1,000 students and faculty members on energy-saving behaviours. The program is estimated to save the university another 300,000 kWh annually, equivalent to about 30 households each year, says Chan.
With current and future projects including lighting upgrades in the WAC Bennett Library, control upgrades on the Maggie Benston Centre and a water tower data centre, both Chan and Sue consider BC Hydro an essential partner in helping the university build a new vision for a cleaner future.