Harnessing nature’s energy to heat an entire campus

Geothermal technology expands to academic buildings on the Okanagan Campus

The University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus is digging deep— literally—to reduce the impact it has on the planet.

UBC has gone underground to employ geo-exchange technology for the heating and cooling needs of most campus buildings. Using the natural energy of the earth reduces the environmental footprint while meeting the climate-control needs of the large campus buildings.

The geo-exchange system is estimated to avoid putting approximately 38,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere over the next 25 years. On average, a typical passenger car emits 5.5 tonnes of CO2 annually.

All new academic buildings are now heated and cooled using geothermal technology—including the Fipke Centre for Innovative Research, University Centre, Arts and Sciences II, Engineering, Management and Education (EME) and the Health Sciences Centre. In addition, the new 212-bed Purcell Residence has its own horizontal geo-exchange loop system.

Existing Okanagan campus academic buildings are being retrofitted for heat from geo-exchange.

“The geo-thermal system serves as the foundation of our emissions and energy reduction strategy on campus,” says Jackie Podger, associate vice president, finance and administration. “All new academic buildings are expected to create substantial energy savings over a conventional building with the same design, and generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions.”

Geo-exchange technology extracts low-grade heat from the earth—in the case of the Okanagan campus with water from a lake-size underground aquifer—and compresses it via a reverse refrigeration process that increases the temperature and can then be used to heat buildings in the winter.

In the summer, the relative cold temperature of the aquifer water cools the buildings.

Benefits of geo-exchange include reduced natural gas consumption, a reduction in harmful greenhouse gas emissions, and significant operational cost savings compared to using conventional, gas-fired heating equipment.

“Measures to improve operational sustainability on campus go beyond the geo-exchange system to incorporate green roofs, solar panels for domestic water pre-heat, water-saving fixtures and best practices in locally-sourced, high-recycled content materials,” says Leanne Bilodeau, director, sustainability operations. “Together, these measures serve to reduce the campus’ environmental footprint, reduce energy use and costs and help to support the local economy.”

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UBC Reports | Vol. 57 | No. 11 | Nov. 3, 2011

Okanagan Campus green roofs provide natural temperature control. Darren Handschuh Photograph

Okanagan Campus green roofs provide natural temperature control. Darren Handschuh Photograph

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Key sustainability projects on UBC’s Okanagan campus

Sustainability Institute

The Okanagan Sustainability Institute (OSI) is an interdisciplinary, inter-faculty institute dedicated to issues of long-term sustainability within the Okanagan region and beyond. Membership is made up of faculty and staff at UBC’s Okanagan campus, complemented by a variety of partnerships in the region.

The objectives of OSI include the generation of information, knowledge, methods and processes that help regions in planning sustainable development while also advancing academic knowledge and practice.

Partnership with Kelowna

UBC’s Okanagan campus has partnered with the City of Kelowna on several sustainability initiatives that advance climate action goals and benefit the environment. UBC has funded projects that will reduce water use, increase transit ridership and cultivate social and cultural sustainability through story and local food.

Sustainable transportation and ways to reduce waste going in to landfills are also joint projects between the city and university, as is an academic grant program to advance sustainability in Kelowna’s Glenmore neighborhood.

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