Climate change matters pertaining to emissions and sustainable sources of energy are high in the public consciousness. Energy generation measures such as solar panels and wind turbines serve as symbols of energy that are more sustainable because they reduce emissions at large, with an emissions strategy often functioning as the vanguard for sustainable outcomes. Chun Liang is Energy Management Supervisor at the City of Brampton, Ontario, and is responsible for the energy and emissions strategy of City owned buildings. He credits the urgency of global warming as inspiring his entry into the field. “Right before I got into energy performance contracting, the Kyoto Protocol came into effect and said two things: global warming is happening and human activity is contributing to it. Warming is related to emissions which are generated by the energy that we use, especially the burning of fossil fuels, so I thought to myself, ‘this is a great time to get into energy performance contracting – the world is moving on this, and I can join the movement to help the planet and recover energy costs’."
In his current role, Liang has used his energy background to help rectify some of the challenges Brampton faces. This includes a large portfolio of older buildings that have a number of energy performance issues including building envelope and building automation systems. Some have outdated automation systems so Liang initiated a technology investigation including discussions regarding a unified display portal (single pane of glass view) with key stakeholders to determine the best solution for the City of Brampton. “The hope with a unified display is that building operators will have an easier time managing the control of many different buildings, improve energy performance and increase occupant comfort.” With an energy performance and modelling background to ensure buildings meet targets, including energy performance targets under the LEED building rating system, Liang has brought his experience to bear on properties in Brampton, and one of the major potential energy efficiency improvements comes from heating. “When you look at the energy and emissions pie chart of a building, especially in an Ontario, Canada context, much of it is from heating since we're burning fossil fuels for eight months a year. That is a major consideration for us because it applies to both of our objectives: to reduce energy use while also reducing our emissions. The focus for the next five years – the term of the City’s Zero Carbon Transition Plan – is finding ways to reduce natural gas use in the City’s existing buildings. A recent successful project done by the energy management team was the installation of heat recovery system. “This system recovers heat from swimming pool drain water at one of the City’s community centres,” says Liang.
While effective measures can be taken to improve the energy performance of existing buildings, future gains can be achieved by ensuring new structures are built to high performance standards. “The City of Brampton is designing, building and renovating many new community centers, fire stations, etc. due to population growth. The energy management group works closely with our building design and construction division, collaborating with them, to integrate energy design into the buildings.” To achieve the energy targets required, Liang and his team have introduced parametric energy modeling that uses cloud computing as one of the central tools. “The benefit of energy modeling on the cloud is that it can quickly simulate interactive effects, thereby drastically reducing the amount of time it takes to produce options that not only provide optimal energy performance but can also illustrate paths for emissions and operating cost reductions. If we change lights to LED or we use more daylighting, what effect does that have on the heating? Strategic use of daylight for a building can also be a passive form of heating which can help to reduce emissions associated with heating.” Aside from utilizing sustainable energy, such measures have the knock-on effect of improving the experience of citizens, as with the natural light provided by daylighting. “These are the types of things that we also look at. It's not just about energy effects, but also occupant comfort.”
Such measures are to play a vital part in achieving the city’s ambitious Zero Carbon Transition Plan. “The provincial government has set a target of 30% emissions reductions by 2030, and the federal government has set an 80% reduction target by 2050, which is in line with the Paris Agreement to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2050. Our Zero Carbon Transition Plan is predicated around these targets. We're looking at reducing our energy use for new and existing buildings by 30% by 2030. We're targeting various measures: heating, ventilation, air conditioning systems and building envelope. We're going to use heat recovery: recycling waste heat wherever possible. Once you get the energy demands of the building down, then the next step is to look at renewable technology. That's the most efficient way to approach it. It's energy management 101.” Other innovations geared towards meeting the city’s targets include innovations in passive heating. “The SolarWall is a matte black surface that can be put on top of a building’s exterior wall, leaving an air gap,” says Liang. “The sun hits this black surface, and transfers energy to the wall and air gap. The air is heated in that gap and then brought into the building to preheat the air for ventilation. “We expect to verify the energy savings for a system installed at a City of Brampton building as it has found success in other building applications.” The system may be able to reduce emissions associated with heating. Regarding the reduction of vehicle emissions, charging stations for electric cars have been installed at City owned buildings with a focus on public facing sites such as libraries and community centres.
“We're in a race against time to hit the provincial and federal emission reduction target, which is based on the Paris Agreement, so we need to transition to zero carbon as soon as we can,” says Liang. It is obvious that Brampton is proactively contributing to this effort, setting targets and bringing in concrete measures to ensure their achievement. Nevertheless, sometimes advancements can bring their own drawbacks. “We have a number of solar photovoltaic installations that generate electricity for us, and they provide a steady stream of revenue, as well as reducing our electricity use. The challenge is the cost of electricity. If we switch over to electricity to heat our buildings, electricity costs significantly more than natural gas per equivalent energy unit, so the question is, how do we bridge that gap? It’s kind of an open question.”
One possible solution to this conundrum is an improvement in the way society works together. “I’m hoping to see more collaboration between municipalities, utilities, and the private sector. Too often we work in silos when we could be sharing knowledge and lessons learned. For example, a battery storage project can provide resiliency for a building and perhaps also provide part of its energy needs for heating and cooling. This approach provides great co-benefits, if the costs of off peak battery charging can be lowered further. That's something I hope to see more of in the future. As we collaborate and collectively pool our resources, we accelerate the case for sustainability.”