Amid a pandemic, U of T Engineering Design Team pushes ahead on energy retrofit project

Northern Light Solutions team at their energy audit at Orde Street Public School.

One lesson this pandemic brought to light is that a reduced carbon footprint can have a measurable impact on the environment. Students from the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering knew that to be the case when they began work on an energy retrofit project for a local school.

Northern Lights Solutions (NLS) is a student design team in the Canadian/National Electrical Contractors Association University of Toronto Student Chapter (CECA/NECA U of T). Each year, the team takes part in the ELECTRI International Green Energy Challenge (GEC). They partner up with a local community service organization, to propose retrofits and implement an energy awareness campaign that helps the facility to reduce its overall energy consumption.

“This competition is a great chance for us students to learn about sustainable building designs and give back to our local community,” said Noah Cassidy (CivE Year 4), President of CECA/NECA U of T. “I love building on our past success with enthusiastic students and initiatives to enhance the competition experience.”

NLS tours of a real solar panel system on campus.

Before the 2020 GEC began, the CECA/NECA U of T Executive Team improved their recruiting efforts with a series of workshops focused on each sub team in the competition. These workshops ranged from interactive activities to tours of a real solar panel system on campus (pictured on the right).

“The executive team took a different approach to marketing our club early on this school year,” said Pavani Perera (CivE Year 4), Student Outreach Coordinator of CECA/NECA U of T. “These workshops let us engage with new students by giving them the chance to find out which sub-teams align with their interests and skills. From there, we ended up with a diverse, committed team to tackle GEC”.

With new recruiting initiatives, NLS continues to grow with students from various STEM programs passionate about green energy, community involvement, and leadership development. The 2020 GEC team leads include: Rose Zhang (CivE Year 2) (Co-Project Manager); Adrian Sin (CivE Year 3) (Co-Project Manager); Mahia Anhara (CivE Year 3) (Project Management); Bo Zhao (CivE Year 1) (Building Energy Performance); Ziyi Wang (CivE Year 2) (Lighting), Keziah Nongo (CivE Year 2) (Solar), and Kin Hey Chan (CivE Year 1) (Community Engagement).

This year, NLS is working with Orde Street Junior Public School, located right by the U of T campus in downtown Toronto. In February, the team conducted an energy audit at the school to figure out energy usage with electricity, building enclosures, mechanical systems, and lighting.

Since then, each sub team was hard at work developing retrofits that could realistically be implemented to improve the facility’s energy performance as well as generate energy on-site. The main goal is to find cost-effective ways to achieve net-zero energy, in which the facility generates as much or more energy as it uses. Some retrofits the team focused on include efficient boilers, light shelves, and a roof-mounted solar photovoltaic system connected to the grid.

The unique challenge this year was the outreach portion of the project. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the team could not carry out their energy awareness campaign in person at the school; instead, they took a more creative approach with virtual learning. NLS created a series of remote lesson plans for both elementary and intermediate level students at the school.

“Our team has put together lesson plans, videos, blog posts, and an online game with the themes of energy, building materials, and how the indoor environment impacts human wellbeing,” said Chan. “It’s been fun for us to create and we hope the students learn to do their part for the environment right from home. We really appreciate the support from the school staff and parents in delivering this material”.

NLS wrapped up their proposal for the June 1st GEC deadline. They are determined to top their second place finish last year for their work at Armour Heights Presbyterian Church in North York. Back in September 2019, they got the exciting opportunity to present that project and be recognized at the NECA Convention in Las Vegas. This year, if selected as a top team, NLS will get to present their proposal in Chicago!

“We’d like to thank Professor Brenda McCabe (our faculty advisor), the Department of Civil & Mineral Engineering, and our industry connections at CECA for the amazing support and resources they provide us with each year. We plan to continue working hard to help our local communities!” said Cassidy.