Executives from Mohawk College, Ernst & Young, Footprint, Johnson Controls, and the University of Toronto St. George Campus discussed post-secondary carbon reduction strategies at SHURE GTA.

Canadian post-secondary institutions embrace renewable energy and carbon reduction goals

January 10, 2024

SHURE Initiative

Post-secondary institutions in Canada are taking a leading role in energy transition with solar, wind, geothermal, and energy storage installations and upgrades.

The 2030 Canadian Emissions Reduction Plan is an ambitious roadmap that outlines a sector-by-sector path for the country to reach its emissions reduction target of 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050. The post-secondary arena is taking a proactive approach to these goals.

Related SHURE Initiative content | Landlords Need Incentives to Implement Next-Generation Heat Recovery Technologies in University Environments: SHURE Vancouver Panel

A SHURE Inititiative GTA (Toronto) session convened executives on this topic and precisely how it will play out in higher education. Contributors raised the critical question: Can higher education generate enough energy to be autonomous from the power grid?

Anthony (Tony) Cupido, Ph.D., P.Eng., Research Chair, Sustainable Building Technologies, Mohawk College

“Many post-secondary campuses, certainly here in Ontario and across Canada, and many of my colleagues in the U.S. have started the process of developing renewable energy strategies,” said Anthony (Tony) Cupido, Ph.D., P.Eng., Research Chair, Sustainable Building Technologies, Mohawk College who moderated the session.

“We need to create more renewable energy than we need on campus,” said Scott Hendershot, Senior Manager of the Sustainability Office, University of Toronto St. George Campus. Hendershot says his institution committed in 2021 to becoming carbon neutral before 2050.

Scott Hendershot, Senior Manager of the Sustainability Office, University of Toronto St. George Campus

Leadership is necessary in the post-secondary world for institutions to take a vital role in looking at renewables, retrofitting buildings, and charting the path forward. In Canada, there is significant activity at universities, notably the larger U15 institutions, to have the financial backing of key stakeholders to produce renewable energy plans and incentives.

In recent years, Mohawk College developed the Joyce Center as the first zero-carbon building designated under the Canada Rebuilding Council’s Zero Carbon Building Program. The Joyce Center is certified for both design and performance. Cupido says the Joyce Center produces more power than it consumes. “A very proud achievement,” according to Cupido.

Funding for renewable projects can be challenging. However, the Canadian Infrastructure Bank (CIB) is active in renewable energy projects. For projects requiring less than $25 million CAD, the bank typically prefers to work with aggregator companies, such as Johnson Controls, which contributed to the session. However, for projects above $25 mn, the sponsor can go directly to the Canadian Infrastructure Bank.

Paul Tawfik, Director – Sustainable Infrastructure, Johnson Controls

“One of the big challenges that we see with these projects is lack of funding,” said Paul Tawfik, Director – Sustainable Infrastructure, Johnson Controls.

“2030 is coming very quickly, around the corner,” noted Cupido. “There’s much to do, particularly on a larger campus with more buildings. I know that in the college sector, due to the age of the building and retrofits, which I’m now more familiar with, all are 50 years old because they were built in the 70s. So, there’s much work to be done on those buildings.”

Lyle Scott, Principal, Footprint

Lyle Scott, Principal of Footprint, a sustainable consulting firm, was impressed with the acceleration in the energy storage industry.

“Battery technology is moving at a remarkably rapid pace. Here in the province of Ontario, we see large battery installations for peak shaving strategy, reducing utilities’ burden during peak hours.”

Cupido concluded with advice for other universities and colleges across Canada.

“If I could stress three things that are important here, I would say that the first is that you should have a campus master plan already for your institution. Second, ensure that there’s an energy reduction, greenhouse gas reduction, or climate action plan as part of your institution’s strategy, and if you don’t have it, get it. Finally, any new facilities you’re putting up, make sure they have a high-performance standard,” Cupido told the SHURE GTA audience.