Canada’s energy and sustainability professionals can gain hands-on experience with highly energy efficient buildings at Mohawk College. Learning to build and manage net zero carbon emissions buildings is now available to students and industry practitioners on the Hamilton based campus.  

Canada’s largest zero carbon institutional building opened at Mohawk College in September 2018. The 96,000 ft² Joyce Centre for Partnership & Innovation incorporates leading-edge energy harvesting and conservation technologies and techniques. This unique, green building is a showcase for real time teaching of students, faculty, staff and community partners. Students get hands-on learning in how to operate, monitor and maintain a zero carbon building.

The Joyce Centre also serves as a demonstration site for industry partners looking to adopt zero carbon technologies into commercial, industrial and residential buildings. Partners can work alongside students and faculty on applied research projects, with a special focus on the generation, distribution and storage of renewable energies.

The Joyce Centre generates 100% of the energy required to power it through the course of a year. The building is completely powered by electricity from an on-site 500 kW photovoltaic (pv) array. Nearly 2000 solar panels are placed on two large steel structures on the roof. Additional arrays, installed on adjoining buildings at Mohawk College, support the net-zero performance of the building.

The orientation of the building allows daylight to be captured and distributed to all floors through the centre light well feature.

Both outside and inside, The Joyce Centre maximizes green building techniques and efficiencies to meet and exceed the goals of a net zero institutional building. The outer envelope of the building consists of insulated pre-cast sandwich panels and triple glazed windows. The overall building+wall performance of R-11, regulates the interior climate by creating a highly effective air and vapour barrier so that the HVAC systems work a minimal amount of time – if at all.

The roofs are designed for increased thermal performance with an effective R-40 insulation and have a high reflective top surface.

Space heating and cooling are provided by a variable refrigerant flow (VRF) geo-exchange heat pump system.  Geothermal energy is one of the cleanest renewable energy sources available, emitting close to zero greenhouse gases and generating no sound pollution.

28 geothermal wells have been drilled into the rock beneath the building to a depth of over 600 feet (184.4m). The system cools the building in the summer by storing heat in the underground formation. Energy is extracted during the winter months when heating is needed for the building. The system has a life span of 100 years. Each drilled well for The Joyce Centre stores enough heat for a 2000 ft² home each year and will help offset 7 tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Domestic hot water is provided by a rooftop solar thermal system. A rainwater harvesting system, with storage of 228,000 litres, provides non-potable water for all the toilets and irrigation needs of the building.

The building is equipped with electronic dashboards that share real-time data covering: the electricity produced by the solar panel system; the energy needed to power the building; the operation of the geothermal heating and cooling system regulating the building‘s temperature; the series of cisterns collecting rainwater that is used for plumbing and landscaping needs; the solar energy stored in batteries for later use; and how the weather is impacting the building‘s systems.

The Joyce Centre for Partnership & Innovation features seven levels of learning spaces allowing students to access every level from the solar thermal array on the roof patio to the mechanical room and the sub-basement water room. By being transparent about how the building works, students and staff are able to see their real time impact on the building. If it‘s a busy day, they will see increased water usage. If the weather is hot, they will see the energy needed to cool the building or how the heat impacts water levels because the landscaping needs watering.

A core learning focus for students, staff and industry partners is to understand how behaviour impacts building operations. Unless the humans inside a building act with sustainability in mind, a building can‘t accomplish the net zero targets set out for it. A team of Zero Carbon Ambassadors, trained in zero carbon building design and management, support outreach activities that encourage students, staff and faculty to learn about and use the building as a net zero environment.

The design intent for the Joyce Centre was to create a space to lead the adoption and management for institutional buildings in Canada and to enhance Mohawk student learning.  The Office of Campus Sustainability and Climate Change at Mohawk College is educating and engaging students about climate change, conservation, waste management and net zero energy. As a result, The Joyce Centre for Partnership & innovation is the ideal place to demonstrate net-zero in action.

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