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Water Today Title June 29, 2022

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Update 2017/3/5
Greening government - Retrofitting Part 3


By Ronan O'Doherty

Canada's federal government is trying to set an environmentally friendly example for corporations across the country, by undertaking the colossal task of turning the buildings they own and operate green.

Needless to say, we're referring to more than just applying a couple coats of paint.

In November of 2016, Environmental Minister Catherine McKenna said the government will run all of its operations on renewable energy by 2025.

The plan included promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from federal government buildings by 40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 at the latest. In addition, it promised to spend $1 billion modernizing heating and cooling systems in more than 80 locations in the Ottawa region, which would reduce emissions from those buildings by about a third.

"Greening" over 37,000 buildings taking up over 27 million m2 of floor space all at once is not feasible in the slightest, so some experimental retrofitting is taking place at three federal buildings listed below.
  • 875 Heron Road, Ottawa, ON
  • The Lester B. Pearson Building, 125 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, ON
  • The Arthur Meighen Building, 25 St. Clair Ave E, Toronto, ON

According to a representative involved, the projects are all in the pre-design phase where project teams are evaluating the feasibility of energy-saving designs and optimizing the energy performance of the following systems:
  • Building envelope; made up of walls, floors, roofs, windows and skylights
  • Building automation;
  • Lighting, including the installation of LED technology;
  • Ventilation; and
  • Heating and cooling.

As of right now, none of these buildings have smart lighting, smart plugs or smart heating. In addition, they don't have any renewable energy equipment, so the government's hoping a significant upgrade will result in major reductions in both the consumption of fuel and the production of greenhouse gas emissions.

We were informed that all three of the buildings are planning on investigating the feasibility of on-site renewables during pre-design, with the Arthur Meighen Building at Yonge and St. Claire in Toronto, specifically evaluating a 380 kW photovoltaic solar array, as well as geothermal wells during the design stage.

Geothermal technology takes advantage of the earth or water's consistent temperature at eight to 10 metres below surface to heat or cool a building.

Even with government grants considered, residential homes will typically steer clear of geothermal due to the high price tag, but for commercial structures it can lead to huge savings of up to 50 to 60% in heating and cooling costs. However, most experts agree that for an existing building in downtown Toronto, retrofitting the technology is going to be challenging and as such, very costly from a bottom line perspective.

Dr. Charles Rhodes, Chief Engineer at Xylene Technologies, said in reference to a downtown Toronto geothermal project," Something at Yonge and St. Claire could be very difficult as the adjacent buildings are very close. It could be done but you'd have to clear the site in order to have space for a drilling rig. Without the room, it's extremely difficult."

Rhodes drew attention to an early 80s geothermal project at Dufferin and Steeles that turned into a huge fiasco. An underground aquifer that the engineers tapped into, ended up drawing a lot of sand into the system. It turns out the engineers had not planned to use the correct piping.

All experts agree that proper planning is essential to successfully green these buildings.

Peter Turrell, Director of the Millenium Institution, is a forerunner in the renewable energy space in Ontario. He said, "It's difficult when the project was designed when no-one had ever thought of the technologies that exist today, so there needs to be proper critical thinking in the design phase."

He remains sceptical about putting in technology for technology's sake, saying, "A lot of the proposals I see are written by people who have never done what they're writing about," going on to add," It's not like we're luddites but unnecessary complexity is a weakness."

Turrell is a big proponent of solar energy, so was somewhat impressed by the plan to install the 380kw photovoltaic array. He said, "The sun is a guaranteed technology. Even when solar panels get old, they don't stop producing, they just produce less."

He went on to say that roofs just gain heat, which in turn requires air conditioning in the building to counteract during summer months, so there's little to lose by adding solar panels. Turrell also favours flat wall space that has sun exposure, saying, "In the winter it never gets any snow on it, so I think it's an ignored area." LED Lighting is by no means a new technology at this point but it's one that enterprise sized corporations that have been around for longer than a decade or two, are just starting to adopt. Like the aforementioned solutions, switching to LED lighting can result in large savings. Currently the buildings being discussed are all using T8 and T5 fluorescent lighting.

Gerard Campeau, President of Thermal Electronics Corp was insistent the latest iterations need to be used. He said, "LEDs pay for themselves very quickly. They're an outstanding idea but they need to be the latest technology, not first generation LEDs. They've got to be third or fourth generation. The newer ones are very efficient, long lasting and cut a lot of power." He added that whoever is purchasing the lights needs to do in-depth research into who their supplier is and what the quality of their product is, saying, "You don't want it failing or all your cost savings is shot in replacement costs."

Campeau also discussed the Smart HVAC systems that are available these days, mentioning that they can be big money savers. These retrofitted buildings will probably have sensors in each room connected to smart thermostats that will observe the temperature and be able to tell whether the room is occupied. Based on the readings, they'll either open or close the ducts, essentially turning each room into its own microclimate. Campeau says this makes the systems far more efficient.

With heating costs of 875 Heron Road and Lester B Pearson Building at $700,000 and $800,000 respectively, efficiency is of vital import.

To research said efficiency, Public Services and Procurement Canada, who manage almost 4,000 buildings across Canada, have used the online Energy Star Portfolio Manager benchmarking tool. This evaluates the energy performance of its office buildings compared to other Canadian office facilities. According to a government representative, "The information is presently being used to identify and prioritise energy and GHG emissions saving opportunities. It is the first of its kind where an entire portfolio has been benchmarked at any level of government."

Additionally, as a pilot project, 875 Heron Road will switch from using high temperature hot water to low temperature hot water for space heating, humidification and domestic hot water.

Dr. Rhodes said if you have a high rise building that's post war design, it's normally heated with radiators that were typically run at 180F.

In Toronto, starting around 1970-1975, people built high rise buildings with fan coil units, which allowed heating and air conditioning. For these units the circulating temp was around 140F at their maximum heating load on cold days.

More recently, people in the heating business have been pushing a German design called radiant heating, where instead of using a fan coil you have a whole lot of heating tubes buried into the floor. Typically in the middle of winter, the temp circulating through is 115F.

This method takes significantly less energy to run the heat pumps but to retrofit to an existing building, you're looking at tearing out either the ceiling or the floor and sometimes the doors and windows. As such, the building can't be occupied during renovation. A difficult setback for a public services building that houses the Canada Revenue Agency.

Canadian Green Building Council was contacted for their thoughts on the retrofitting of these three buildings, although their spokespeople were unavailable to comment, a representative sent the following statement, "The Pan-Canadian Framework's guidelines to retrofit existing buildings and measure existing buildings' energy use are critical to reaching the maximum emissions reductions possible from the building sector, and to strengthening climate change resiliency.

Existing buildings represent over 80 percent of Canada's building stock which will still be standing in 2030. These buildings present a greater emissions reduction opportunity than any new construction activity between now and 2030.

CaGBC research demonstrates that Canada can achieve a 44 per cent reduction in emissions with a combination of recommissioning, deep retrofitting, adding renewable, and fuel switching in existing buildings over 25,000 square feet by 2030.

Existing buildings are not only critical to achieving the targeted GHG emissions reductions, but present a massive economic opportunity. Large-scale upgrades to existing buildings will create jobs, drive the creation of new technologies and could contribute $32.5 billion in total GDP impacts by 2030 and reduce 19.4 million tonnes of GHG emissions ."

We hope to have more info on the retrofitting of these buildings as we move past the design phase and on to the build.


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