A new Humber College project will dramatically reduce natural gas use and carbon emissions while saving the College tens of millions of dollars in energy costs.

The SWITCH project will see Humber replace the entire heating system at North Campus with a new one. The project will reduce the College’s reliance on natural gas by switching from a steam-based system, which was constructed in 1972, to a modern hot water system that generates heat using mostly electricity.

It’s also addressing the College’s biggest source of carbon emissions at North Campus.

Four people stand in front of a large mechanical device. A lever that reads Steam Boiler is switched to off.

The retrofit requires replacing more than four kilometres of pipe across all campus buildings and installing new equipment in I Building, the campus’ Central Plant.  

An electric boiler will provide heating to the campus during off-peak times, generally overnight and on weekends. The project will also use heat pumps. These devices capture heat from the cooling system that would otherwise be discarded outside and use it to heat other parts of the building or campus.

SWITCH will play a significant role as Humber works towards its goal of becoming net zero by 2050. Once operational, the project will result in a 70 per cent reduction in natural gas use at North Campus along with a reduction of carbon emissions by 40 per cent.

“SWITCH is one of the key pieces in our plan to get us to net zero,” said Lindsay Walker, associate director, Sustainability at Humber. “This is a huge step and while there's more to do, we wouldn't be able to achieve our goal of being net zero without it.”

There will be cumulative utility bills savings of about $55 million over the next 30 years from SWITCH. The utility budget savings are about $1.5 million a year and will increase steadily over time due to increasing rates. It also retires about $5 million in deferred maintenance.

“I am proud to be a part of an institution with such a strong commitment and high standards for building a better future for all,” said Humber President and CEO Ann Marie Vaughan. “I see Humber’s value of sustainability lived each day, and SWITCH is a very important milestone for our campus and our climate.”

"With SWITCH, Humber is demonstrating how decarbonization is possible in a way that engages our community with a financial return. As an educational institution, we will continue to take bold action to show the world, our community and our students how it can be done,” continued President Vaughan.

Three people standing in front of a large mechanical device clap. A screen beside them reads SWITCH.

Aman Hehar, associate director, Energy and Climate Change, said the first phase of the project has begun and the bulk of the work on the project will be completed over the next two summers.  

While the project will have cost savings benefits and will reduce carbon emissions, it’s also being used to engage and educate students. The company tasked with designing and building the project, Ecosystem Energy, has hired several Humber co-op students who get a rare opportunity to work on a project benefitting their College as part of their work placement.

Humber is also incorporating SWITCH into capstone projects for students by presenting students with design challenges related to it. Students in related programs will also have the opportunity to tour the facility and the construction work being done.

Hehar also noted that the infrastructure being installed for SWITCH is laying the groundwork for future decarbonization initiatives at Humber.