Rehabbing and retrofitting buildings generates energy, conserves money in Edmonton

When the iconic glass roof over the Edmonton Convention Centre approached the end of its working life, a big question came clearly into view.

Replace the glass panels like for like, or reach for the sky? 

“Edmonton is one of the sunniest cities in Canada, with 2,300 hours of sun in an average year,” said Brad Watson, Program Manager, Facility Infrastructure Delivery with the City of Edmonton. “Solar is the most viable form of renewable energy for widespread application in Edmonton.”

The City decided to take the window of opportunity and install an efficient solar cell system at the Convention Centre. It is now Canada’s largest building-integrated photovoltaic system. 

The solar cells are inside the glass—like the ice cream in an ice cream sandwich. This unique way of installing solar allowed the Convention Centre to keep its clean, river valley look and feel.

The new cells will generate around 200 megawatt hours of electricity a year, resulting in a system that pays for itself in about 22 years. At that point, it will still have several years of valuable energy generation.

Solar cells in Edmonton Convention Centre roof, June 1, 2020

“This is the perfect opportunity to put the atrium’s south-facing roof to better use for the Edmonton Convention Centre,” said Donna Clare, DIALOG Principal and Architect. 

“Now, the skylights capture solar energy and make a proud statement about the Centre’s sustainability program. The sun-filled atrium is actually brighter than it was before. The experience of visiting the Centre is more memorable than ever.”

Photovoltaic cell installation, Edmonton Convention Centre

Climate resilience

The Convention Centre transformation is a very visible example of the City’s commitment to climate resilience. What is the resilience in climate resilience? In this case, it means building in a way that strengthens the community and its businesses, protects resources and widens the sources from which energy is drawn. 

“The City of Edmonton is working towards becoming an energy sustainable and climate resilient city,” said Mark Brostrom, Director, City Environmental Strategies. 

“This means reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, conserving energy, increasing energy efficiency and shifting to renewable energy sources. And that leads to cost savings for the city.”

Part of a larger rehabilitation effort

The work done to upgrade the Convention Centre is not an isolated effort.

The City has more than 900 facilities across Edmonton that it cares for—from swimming pools and the Edmonton Valley Zoo, to transit centres and fire stations. City teams regularly do condition assessments, which are the thorough checks of all building parts to ensure they’re working efficiently. 

Experts check things like the HVAC system, the electrical wiring, the underground pipes and plumbing to confirm if anything needs to be replaced or upgraded. 

Many of the buildings in Edmonton are older and need some attention. In those cases, the City starts a rehabilitation project to retrofit the building for now and the future. Just like now was the future when past projects were started.

Muttart Conservatory, Edmonton, June 1, 2020

Muttart Conservatory rehabilitation 

Another project underway, though not as visible as the Convention Centre, is at the Muttart Conservatory. This popular City building was flagged as a priority mainly due to its over 40-year-old mechanical, electrical and structural systems. 

Most of the rehabilitation work at the Muttart is considered “back of house.” Crews are upgrading boilers to more energy efficient versions, replacing the older pipes, upgrading the heating systems and updating electrical. 

Rehabilitation work, Muttart Conservatory, Edmonton

Visitors can expect to see visible improvements to some interior finishes—new water features, floor tiles, pavings stones, and handrails—and to lighting fixtures, but the majority of the work will keep the building operational and improve energy efficiency. 

It’s a project to strengthen the physical plant, but not at the expense of the other plants. 

“The Muttart Conservatory Rehab has been a unique and challenging project as we are replacing critical mechanical and electrical systems, all while maintaining proper environments for the plant life within the pyramids and greenhouses,” said Trevor Ostapiw, Senior Project Manager, Graham Construction. 

“Once the rehab is complete, the facility will have a modern and sophisticated system that will extend the lifespan of this iconic landmark for decades to come.”

The project is targeted to be completed in early 2021.

Muttart Conservatory, Edmonton

Rehabilitation of aging facilities extends the life of buildings, reduces maintenance time and costs and ensures systems meet current safety standards and codes. This unseen, important work allows the public to continue to enjoy City attractions and recreation centres safely.  

And keep the buildings happy.

Future of Edmonton’s buildings

Each project is guided by the Corporate Sustainable Building Policy to find opportunities for improving energy efficiency. Working to retrofit and rehabilitate facilities now to improve energy efficiency is an investment that pays back. 

Editor’s notes: Above, the solar cell installation at the Edmonton Convention Centre features a bit from the poem Gifts of a River by E.D. Blodgett translated into Morse Code from the alphabetic English: 

beginnings just appear
so like a drowsy eye

suddenly awake
where a river wells up

uncoiling from the ice
where snug beside the land

it lay dreaming at
our feet in quiet sleep

May 31 to June 6, 2020, is Environment Week at the City of Edmonton and here on the Transforming Edmonton blog. 

– …. .- -. -.- … / ..-. — .-. / .-. . .- -.. .. -. –. -.-.–