With 67,000 students and 18,000 faculty and staff, the University of British Columbia (UBC) is British Columbia’s oldest and largest university. Its flagship Vancouver campus is spread over 100 acres and has more than 160 buildings — including classrooms, research labs, 12,000 housing beds, an Olympic-size swimming pool, 330-bed hospital, and the world’s largest cyclotron, which is a type of particle accelerator.

Until recently, heating these facilities was done by a 90-year-old steam plant and pipe network. It was costly to maintain and frequently broke down. In assessing their carbon footprint, UBC found that 80% of the school’s carbon emissions was coming from the natural gas being burned to produce the steam for the steam distribution system.

UBC embarked on a six-year upgrade with the commitment of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. One component was a steam-to-hot-water conversion project, which was completed in 2017. The new $88 million, 45MWt District Waste Heat Recovery Project uses heat-recovery systems that reduce UBC’s reliance on natural gas. The new system redirects the heat recovered to the campus’ hot-water district energy system, which supplies the majority of its buildings with heat and hot water for a cleaner environment.

The system includes a new campus energy center and a bioenergy research demonstration facility, which was also upgraded to produce up to 70% of the campus’ thermal energy using clean, locally sourced wood chips and renewable natural gas to power turbines.

To operate and monitor this new heating system, maintenance staff are using a SCADA system that collects, processes and examines the data in real-time to keep the system running smoothly. UBC uses three standalone remote alarm notification systems. The first monitors the power source in the CEC, the second monitors the hot backup, and the third monitors the BRDF power plant. The most important task for this software is to make sure the three gas-fired water boilers in the CEC are maintained at an optimal level.

The software sends notification to operators' mobile phones, so the team can visually check the engines and perform maintenance tasks without running up three floors from the boilers to the control room to simply acknowledge an alarm. It also allows operators to drill down into reports from their smartphone and chat with team members. From a cost management perspective, the software allows the team to maintain the equipment with only one to two staff per shift by making their work much more efficient.

The new heat-recovery systems are reducing UBC’s emissions by over 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually and will help recover 1 megawatt thermal, which would otherwise be wasted. Additionally, the new system is 24% more efficient than the steam plant and pipe network.

Over the lifetime of this project, UBC will see a cumulative reduction of about 14,600 tons of greenhouse gas emissions — equivalent to removing approximately 4,500 cars off the road for one year. The university will also save $1 million in heating costs annually through this project.