Stepping into the future: ending the age of steam at UBC

Peter Smailes, Vice-President, Finance & Operations (left) and John Metras, Associate Vice-President, Facilities (right) close the valve to shut down the last steam line at UBC.

On December 16, 2019, the last steam line at UBC was shut down, marking the end of an era as we aspire to completely eliminate carbon emissions by 2030.

As part of UBC’s Climate Action Plan 2050, from 2011-2017 the VPFO’s Facilities group replaced UBC’s ageing steam district energy system — which primarily provided heat energy to our core academic buildings — with a state-of-the-art medium temperature hot water system. This project replaced 14 kilometres of 90-year-old steam piping, transformed the efficiency of our heat-generating infrastructure, and connected more than 160 core academic buildings to a new, highly efficient hot water district energy system.

Following the main project, a small section of the steam grid remained in use to provide process steam to two buildings. On December 16, that final process steam line was shut off and the remaining buildings were connected to the new hot water system.

Beyond bringing closure to an era and completing a highly successful project, shutting down the last steam line will result in further improvements to the system’s overall efficiency and contribute to our efforts to eliminate carbon emissions at UBC.

To date, the efforts of the Facilities group have helped UBC to achieve a 38 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (from 2007 levels), set UBC on the path for a targeted 67 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2021, and we aspire to completely eliminate carbon emissions by 2030. This commitment has helped UBC be ranked No. 1 in the Times Higher Education ranking in 2019 for taking action to combat climate change.

We think we can do even better as we look to improving on that record for generations of UBC donors, students, faculty, and staff to come.

To view event photos, click here.