UWindsor first university in Canada to adopt Hybrid Steam-Electric technology

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The University of Windsor has reaffirmed its commitment to fostering a culture of environmental sustainability on campus and beyond.

On Wednesday, University leadership, students, staff and Enbridge Gas representatives celebrated the installation of a new dual drive, electric-steam turbine chiller - the first of its kind at a Canadian university.

The innovative chiller is driving the heating/cooling and ventilation systems of more than 29 buildings across campus.

Officials say the installation project is one of the largest sustainability initiatives UWindsor has undertaken this year, and is part of an ambitious plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent in seven years and net zero by 2050.

University of Windsor vice-president of Finance and Operations, Gillian Heisz, says this milestone project marks their unwavering dedication to environmental stewardship and energy efficiency.

Heisz says they rely heavily on their consultants about what's going to happen with the energy markets, but at this point they know that the reduction of spending on gas and moving towards a cleaner like electricity helps them achieve multiple benefits.

"First it allows us to save money, which is great, and invest it in students. Second it allows us to make a really meaningful reduction in our carbon footprint. So both of those are really key priorities for the University, and the project is allowing us to achieve both. And over the years with our team we're going to be constantly adjusting," she said.

She says some years they might rely a little bit on gas, some years they might rely on gas a little bit more, depending on what's happening with pricing and what's happening with their emissions targets.

Located within the Energy Conversion Centre on Patricia Street, the York YST chiller uses energy effective electricity, complemented by alternative steam energy. 

By seamlessly combining these two energy sources, the advanced hybrid technology will reduce the equivalent of 8,300 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions each year by minimizing natural gas usage and saving an estimated annual operating budget of over $1 million. 

The reduction in CO2 emissions is equivalent to removing 2,000 cars off the roads in a single year, and officials say the GHG emission reduction by installing this new hybrid chiller is anticipated to achieve 82 per cent of UWindsor's 2030 GHG emission reduction target.

Heisz says it's a very exciting day.

"This has been a dream of ours for a number of years, and we're really excited to be able to really meaningfully tackle our carbon emission targets," she continued. "It's such a lofty goal, net-zero by 2050, and it's amazing to feel like we've taken this big chuck out of that target already so early in 2023."

Representatives from Enbridge Gas were also on hand to celebrate the chiller installation, and present incentives of $200,000 as part of UWindsor's participation in their Commercial Energy Efficiency program in support of companies meeting their sustainability goals. 

Including today's incentive, UWindsor has received more than $438,400 from Enbridge Gas since 2018 by reducing reliance on natural gas through energy efficient equipment upgrades, installation of demand-control ventilation systems and more.

Heisz says it's good to have partners involved, because every single University across North America is looking at different strategies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

"And it depends really on the infrastructure that they have in place. So we had various consultants and our team do some research about what we have here and what the most efficient way was to change our plans without completing gutting it and starting over. But to change what we already had in the most efficient way possible and this was the solution that came forward," Heisz said.

Officials say the new chiller will contribute to dramatically increasing energy savings and reducing emissions.

Sarah Van Der Paelt, director of marketing and energy conservation for Enbridge Gas, says the company is proud to work closely with clients like UWindsor to maximize efficiencies.

"Through a combination of innovation, collaboration, and conservation efforts, we have created a successful strategy to reduce emissions while embracing a clean energy future," Van Der Paelt added.

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(Picture taken by AM800's Rusty Thomson)

- with files from AM800's Rusty Thomson