Building energy efficiency: cities upping ante

March 17, 2017


I recently shared a post – 8 ways cities are upping the ante on building efficiency.

Citing a World Resources Institute report, the author summarized eight actions for urban leaders to accelerate energy efficiency in their cities.

It is a helpful summary although the examples of innovation are all international.  So, I thought I would put an Ontario lens on it.

Building energy efficiency is a priority in Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan. Buildings are responsible for 17 percent of Ontario’s emissions.

Building codes and standards

Ontario Building Code (OBC) energy standards have increased notably over the last decade.  Additional changes are expected as the Ontario government aligns the OBC with the Climate Change Action Plan:

“The government intends to update the Building Code with long-term energy efficiency targets for new net zero carbon emission small buildings that will come into effect by 2030 at the latest, and consult on initial changes that will be effective by 2020. Ontario will consult on how to best achieve these targets through Building Code improvements.”

Municipal governments are responsible for enforcing the OBC within their local jurisdictions.  In Canada, only Vancouver and Halifax have the authority to amend their building code.  There is continued talk in Ontario of a tiered system of building energy performance standards that would enable municipalities to choose to enforce higher standards.  This would encourage municipal and industry innovation.  Leading Ontario municipalities have a practice of proactively engaging their building industry partners in responding to new standards and supporting industry innovators.

Regulations are expected in 2018 that will mandate home energy labels so consumers can understand their energy costs when they purchase a home.

Energy-efficiency targets

All Ontario municipal governments are required to report annually on their energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.  They are also required to have a 5-year corporate plan that establishes operational targets for energy and emissions reductions.

Almost two-thirds of Ontario’s population is represented by a voluntary community energy plan setting community targets for energy and emissions reductions. Ontario’s Municipal Energy Plan program helps fund their development. The proposed Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe will require municipalities to develop climate change strategies and targets in support of provincial targets.  In addition, the Ontario Government has proposed complementary policies under the Planning Act, and the Municipal Act, 2001 that will clarify the power of municipalities to establish by-laws addressing climate change mitigation.  Municipalities will be mandated to establish targets and strategies in their official plans under these proposed policies.

Measure and track performance

Ontario hospitals, colleges, universities, schools and large buildings also must report annually on their energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. This allows building owners and managers to benchmark their energy performance against others similar buildings.  The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario has released an interactive map for residents to see how their public buildings compare with others in the province.

Financial incentives

The City of Toronto’s Home Energy Loan Program (HELP) and High-Rise Retrofit Improvement Support Program (Hi-RIS) encourages energy and water retrofits in privately owned residential buildings. The programs have achieved average energy savings of 25 per cent and 28 per cent, respectively, through long-term, low-interest loans to finance energy and water efficiency retrofits.

Lead by example

The City of Burlington has set a goal for its operations to be carbon neutral.

The City of Hamilton achieved a 20 percent energy intensity reduction by 2013 – seven years ahead of schedule. The 2007 Corporate Energy Policy has been updated and proposes to reduce the energy intensity of its corporate facilities 60 percent by 2050 with an interim target of 45 percent by 2030.

Engagement strategies

No shortage of energy retrofit programs have been supplied to homeowners and business owners over the years.  But the problem remains low demand for these programs. Research supports the need for stronger community engagement approaches to accelerate the uptake of energy retrofits.  In that spirit, the City of London and London Hydro partnered with Project Neutral to engage neighbourhoods in reducing their carbon footprint.

Technical training

London Hydro, in partnership with the MaRS Discovery District, has launched several electricity management apps for Ontarians.  This is part of their participation in the second phase of Ontario’s Green Button Connect My Data pilot.

London Hydro’s Innovation Centre has also partnered with the TechAlliance and IBM to develop a scalable consumer facing energy conservation app.  TechAlliance is seeking existing start-ups who have the technical and business capability to bring an app to market.

Partner with utilities

Integrating energy and urban planning at the community and project scale is necessary to achieve deep energy savings in the building sector. Yet, energy decisions have been made in isolation of virtually all municipal services, for over a century. The historical relationship between municipal governments and electricity and gas utilities has been limited to traditional functions. That is to say, utilities support municipal corporate conservation initiatives and municipalities periodically providing planning data upon request regarding future development plans.

This is changing. The growing number of community energy plans in Ontario has seen this relationship grow. In addition, the Independent Electricity System Operation has recognized municipal governments as a stakeholder in Integrated Regional Resource Planning.  Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan is being updated to align with the Climate Change Action Plan. The Minister of Energy has been mandated to ensure community energy plans are considered in energy decision making.

The above examples are far from exhaustive. And more are on the way.  The increasingly supportive and comprehensive policy environment in Ontario will drive innovation in building energy efficiency.