With buildings and homes accounting for 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions nationwide, according to the Government of Canada, increasing buildings’ energy efficiency — that is, using less energy to run them — remains a part of combatting global warming. 

With a total building inventory of around 190,000 square metres, an audit of UTM’s buildings commissioned by U of T found they used approximately 41,700,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in 2022. The audit suggested initiatives tailored to specific buildings that the university could adopt to improve efficiency and reduce energy consumption.

Current energy consumption at U of T 

In 2022, Efficiency Engineering Inc. conducted energy audits of all buildings at UTM. An energy audit surveys and analyzes the energy use of an area or a building, enabling building owners to understand the building’s energy consumption patterns, and provides ideas for initiatives they could adopt to improve energy efficiency. 

According to data from the audit, in 2022, the campus consumed around 41,700,000 kWh of electricity in total — a 3.8 per cent increase over the past four years, according to a 2019 report from UTM. According to an energy usage census conducted by the US Energy Information Administration, universities in the US used, on average, 33 billion kWh of electricity in 2012, and had an average floor space of approximately 174,900,000 square metres. That means the average US university consumed more energy than UTM — but less energy per square metre.

UTM’s total natural gas consumption in 2022 was about 3,900,000 cubic metres — producing approximately 874,500,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide. This was a 22 per cent reduction in natural gas consumption from 2018 levels.

The Energy Utilization Index (EUI), or the measurement of energy consumed in kWh per square foot per year, came in at an average of 34.98 across all UTM buildings. The Research Greenhouse had the highest EUI. According to the 2019 Survey on Commercial and Institutional Energy Use conducted by the Canadian government, Canada’s universities had an average EUI of 26.8 — making the current EUI of UTM’s buildings 31 per cent higher than the 2019 Canadian average.

In addition to data on energy usage, The Varsity obtained the full Energy Audit Reports for the William G. Davis Building, the Communication, Culture and Technology Building, and the Instructional Centre from U of T.

U of T’s data shows that, in both 2018 and 2022, the William G. Davis Building had the highest overall electricity and natural gas consumption at UTM. It also had the third-highest EUI of UTM’s buildings. 

The Communication, Culture and Technology Building had the second-highest electricity consumption and third-highest natural gas consumption at UTM, and the Instructional Centre (IC) had the third-highest electricity consumption. 

What next?

The reports also recommend energy efficiency initiatives the university could take in the near future. The measures suggested in the reports are tailored to each building, although some common suggestions include installing solar energy systems, upgrading to LED lighting, and installing electric hot water heater tanks instead of the gas-powered tanks currently heating some buildings. 

The William G. Davis building report includes a number of recommendations, such as scheduling air handling units to not operate at full capacity while buildings are closed overnight and installing lighting controls that could turn off when rooms are unoccupied. The report projects that, if U of T implements all its recommendations, the building’s overall EUI would decrease by 27.2 per cent. Implementing the measures suggested for the IC could decrease the building’s EUI by 51.2 per cent.

However, the reports noted that adopting some measures could result in a financial loss and categorized them as “Longer Payback” because they don’t appear as “financially attractive.” 

“These measures should be considered when equipment failure occurs or as Capital Renewal projects as equipment approaches its end of life,” the report for the IC reads. 

U of T did not respond to The Varsity’s questions about whether it had implemented the audit reports’ recommendations.

Ongoing measures across the three campuses

In 2018, the university joined the University Climate Change Coalition, a network of North American research institutions committed to accelerating the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Since then, it has pledged to reduce 37 per cent of its GHG emissions by 2030, according to U of T’s Low-Carbon Action Plan 2019–2024. Announced and launched in 2019, the Action Plan is a tri-campus five-year framework of initiatives aiming to reduce U of T’s carbon emissions.

One highlight of the Action Plan was the construction of geoexchange systems — which extract energy from heat underground — on all three campuses to reduce energy consumption. For instance, the UTM Science Building currently under construction, which uses a geoexchange system, is designed to use 65 per cent less energy than a conventional building.

The Action Plan detailed a tri-campus-wide energy consumption reduction strategy with retrofits, optimizing building systems, and adopting designs of standards with superior energy and carbon intensity performance.

At UTSG, U of T recently completed much of its King’s College Circle construction and thus a large part of Project Leap, an initiative designed to eliminate over 50 per cent of the St. George campus’ direct GHG emissions by 2026. The project has three main components: modernizing the campus district energy system; retrofitting buildings to dramatically reduce energy consumption; and connecting the campus’ energy system with the geoexchange system at King’s College Circle.

Building energy efficiency

According to an email from Danny Harvey, a professor at the Department of Geography at U of T, there are many initiatives occupants and landlords can take to reduce building energy building consumption. 

In the near term, he wrote, occupants should be conscious when operating the building’s heating and cooling system. For instance, they could only use thermostat settings when inside the unit or building, lower heating or cooling levels when they’re not present, and use fans. In the longer term, building managers can make necessary renovations and upgrades — such as replacing double-glazed windows with triple-glazed ones to improve heat retention — to reduce energy use as much as possible. 

Most of UTM’s buildings are relatively new. However, Toronto contains many historic buildings. Harvey suggested that owners of these buildings could apply for the City of Toronto’s ‘Deep Retrofit Challenge’ program to lower their energy use. The program selects buildings in Toronto to undergo a “deeper-than-planned” retrofit aiming to reduce their GHG emissions. Selected buildings will receive an investment of up to five million from the federal government.

Harvey wrote that students are frequent energy consumers on campus, and thus their consumption patterns impact the energy consumption of buildings on campus. Students should be more conscientious of their energy use in residences, and “pressure the admin[istration] for a deep retrofit of [buildings] such as Sid Smith,” Professor Harvey wrote.