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Modular Building Institute

Creating a True Culture of Conservation and Energy Efficiency

Aug. 30, 2011
Interactive Research Center’s Goal is Net-Positive Energy and Water Performance

In response to the global challenge of creating a more sustainable society and the need to accelerate the adoption of urban sustainability practices, the University of British Columbia (UBC) is opening Sept. 6 the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS). The CIRS will serve as a “living laboratory” for sustainable building systems and technologies.

Current climate change mitigation and biosphere restoration imperatives demand that we act decisively and quickly. Universities are uniquely positioned to respond to these challenges and demonstrate at-scale novel deployments of renewable energy systems, aggressive and far-reaching energy and natural resources demand-reduction programs, and the creation of a true culture of conservation and energy efficiency.

When CIRS opens its doors, it will become UBC’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum building, and one of the first “living buildings” in North America. By virtue of its regenerative design, CIRS will represent a significant change from the mainstream green-building movement that focuses on reducing the impact of building construction and operations on the environment. CIRS will attempt to demonstrate that buildings can live within the energy- and mass-flows available to them within their footprints, and that carefully planned and designed buildings can improve their local context.

CIRS will be the first commercial building in North America to demonstrate net-positive energy and water performance. The deployment and integration of a set of advanced clean and renewable-energy and water-treatment and recycling technologies requires a sophisticated building sensing, monitoring, and controls system. The controls system must continuously and seamlessly assess and provide building-system-performance data, while fulfilling the indoor environmental quality and comfort requirements of the CIRS inhabitants, with a goal of continuous improvement over time.

This building features a comprehensive array of sensing, monitoring, and controls technologies, integrated under a common building technology platform, in this case Honeywell’s Enterprise Building Integrator software. Thousands of points, including 200+ window sensors will be part of the CIRS’s building management system. The sensing, monitoring, and controls system will be coupled with Honeywell’s Energy Manager and Digital Video Manager, as part of a network-based solution that will be demonstrating the use of virtual data storage.

Some of the controls technologies that CIRS will demonstrate include, day-lighting sensing and dimming controls, ventilation effectiveness monitoring systems; comfort, air flow, occupancy and lighting controls for building users; and water and wastewater quality testing; among many others.

The robust building-management system, coupled with a building technology software platform and energy- and water-management interfaces will enable the testing and demonstration of new building technologies in the future as well as the implementation of new and more efficient building operation algorithms. A stringent measurement and verification program for the continuous auditing of energy use and building performance will also be implemented.

CIRS will harvest waste heat, renewable-energy, and rainwater to supply 100% of the space heating energy required, about 10% of its electricity demand and 100% of its potable water needs. Wastewater produced in the building will be treated to tertiary standards using a bio-filtration process and recycled to flush toilets and urinals and for irrigation purposes. Every occupied space in the CIRS building will have access to daylight and natural ventilation when conditions allow it.

CIRS will make its local environment better by collecting energy and exporting it to nearby buildings, biologically treating and recycling wastewater from other campus buildings, re-directing storm-water runoff into the local aquifer, providing habitat for local species, and enriching the public realm and local community.

All building inhabitants will have access to daylight and natural ventilation and will be able to adjust the airflow and air temperature affecting their local environment. Additionally, building inhabitants will have access to real-time building performance data and will be able to participate in the implementation of different building operation strategies with the goal of achieving improvements in energy and resource use efficiency over time.

Conceived as a dynamic process, the design of CIRS will make it easier to adopt changes in space use and occupancy and to respond to advances in IT, AV and building automation and controls technologies. The interior design of CIRS includes a raised-floor system with under-floor air, power and data distribution for maximum flexibility, and demountable partitions that can be easily reconfigured.

CIRS will be the home of the UBC Sustainability Initiative that will promote and unite sustainability efforts in teaching and learning, research, and campus operations. It will become a focal point for sustainability activities and programs on campus by:

• Creating a state-of-the-art “living laboratory” that will allow researchers and building industry partners to undertake research on, and assessment of, current and future sustainable building systems and technologies;

• Advancing visualization, simulation, and community engagement technologies and processes that will support research on new approaches to interacting with citizens in exploring sustainable lifestyles; and

• Bringing together partners from the private, public, and non-governmental-organization sectors to share the research facility, working with CIRS researchers to identify areas in which this region has a competitive edge in sustainable technologies and services.

Finally, as part of a comprehensive diffusion and dissemination information strategy and to facilitate the replication of more “regenerative” buildings like CIRS, a technical manual outlining the main planning, design, construction, and operation attributes of CIRS will be written and posted on an interactive website for the project. Practitioners, policy makers and the public at large will benefit from unimpeded access to a vast repository of resources and lessons learned.

Alberto Cayuela, P.Eng., PMP, LEED AP, is associate director of the University of British Columbia’s Sustainability Initiative ( He can be reached at 604/827-3999, or by e-mail at [email protected]