UVSS starts Ecofoot working group with goal of carbon neutrality

Campus Environmental News

New committee to develop long-term framework and look at heat pumps, solar panels

Photo of overflowing recycle bins in the UVic student union building, photo by Sie Douglas-Fish.
Photo by Sie Douglas-Fish.

The UVSS is beginning the long road towards carbon neutrality. In spring 2021, the previous Board of Directors promised to make the SUB carbon neutral by 2040. 

The new board has included carbon neutrality and energy efficiency in their strategic plan and stated they will begin formulating a long-term framework for accomplishing these goals.

Director of Finance and Operations Dipayan Nag says he is in the process of creating a new working group called Ecofoot to develop this framework. Ecofoot will work alongside the Finance and Operations Committee and will report to the Board of Directors. The working group will also collaborate with students, advocacy groups, and clubs to make sure sustainable initiatives include student perspectives and fit into the UVSS’s work on decolonization.

“There has always been an interest within the board to [move towards carbon neutrality], there just has been no structure,” Nag told the Martlet.

He says that the working group is in its very early stages and he hopes to open up meetings to all undergraduate students in the near future. Any undergraduate student that comes to three or more meetings will have a vote in key decisions. 

The creation of the framework itself will likely not be done for several years. Nag, however, hopes to have it well underway by the end of his term. Past that, the project will depend on the will of future boards.

“So a lot of it is released this year, and probably the next couple of years,” he said. “If the lead director then decides to take it up, [it] is going to be accumulating and formulating plans.”

He says the first order of business will be to focus on the audits carried out on the SUB in 2012 and 2020 by Avalon Energy Management. These audits pointed out various ways the UVSS could make the SUB more energy efficient. The 2020 audit points out that while some of the recommendations from 2012 have been carried out, leading to a year over year decrease in the energy usage of the SUB, many, such as implementing low-intensity lighting, double-panelled windows, and heat pumps, have not.

The report states that simple acts such as switching to low-intensity lighting and keeping them off at certain periods could save the SUB up to 188 225 kilowatt-hours per year and greatly reduce the amount of emissions generated by electricity. Other changes such as installing heat pumps would save both electricity and the amount of district energy the building uses. 

The issue, says Nag, is that many of these proposed changes cost a substantial amount of money and will need a high level of investment by the UVSS. 

According to a study carried out by AES Engineering Limited, solar panels could cost upwards of $314 000 if they became the SUB’s sole form of energy. Heat pumps, meanwhile, could cost between $1 900 and $20 000. Lighting would cost upwards of $214 000.

While each technology would provide savings over time, it would take at least a decade for most changes to pay themselves off.

For this reason, Nag says the framework will likely combine a variety of different solutions.

“[Our plan is] to analyze those reports and see what is the efficient and cost-effective method for us,” he said. 

Nag says that he is excited to find ways to increase the energy conservation of the SUB in little ways that won’t break the bank in the same way as large ticket items.

“It’s not so much energy production, but energy conservation,” he said.”Simple things, such as replacing window panels with double-layered or thermal shields […] do not involve as much investment especially if you’re talking about small spaces, which there’s quite a fair bit of in the SUB.”