Leading a green building transformation to net zero

Mohawk College has established leadership and expertise in the journey to net zero energy and net zero carbon through the construction and operation of the Joyce Centre for Partnership & Innovation — Canada’s first and largest net zero institutional building.

Traditionally built commercial and institutional buildings consume huge amounts of power that is largely drawn from the grid. Nearly a quarter of Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions — 40 megatonnes annually — comes from buildings.

The Joyce Centre opened in 2018 and soon became the first institutional building to be Zero Carbon Certified for design and performance under the Zero Carbon Building Program of the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC).

Two man standing powerfully with Mohawk College's architecture in the background

Steve Jankus, Energy and Automation Systems Specialist and Henry Colyn, Chief Building and Facilities Officer

Over the past three years, the almost 97,000-square-foot structure has generated more energy than it has consumed, thanks to the use of solar power, a large-scale geothermal energy system for heating and cooling, a tight building envelope, and data analysis that informs building operation to fully harness the building’s energy efficiency.

The Joyce Centre’s energy-intensity design target was set at 73 kWh/m2 per year, a level 80 per cent lower than the 2018 Canadian national median for college and university buildings. According to the latest data, the building’s actual energy intensity was 42 kWh/m2 in 2021, or 85 per cent lower than the median level for postsecondary buildings across Canada.

“A lot of technologies have to be in place in order for a building to perform like this and they all have to be integrated and communicate with each other,” says Henry Colyn, Chief Building and Facilities Officer. “And from there it requires the constant monitoring of our Facilities team, who have to make adjustments and tweaks to optimize performance. It’s always a challenge to be the first, but our team is proving the design.”

That design includes 28 geothermal wells that extract heat from the ground in winter that has been stored from the summer. Overall, the building transfers roughly two-thirds more heat into the ground than it draws.

In addition to energy use, the Joyce Centre is a model of water conservation by harvesting rainwater from the roof and using it for toilets and irrigation, following filtration and disinfection. Annually, the building draws less than five per cent of its water from the municipal system.

The Joyce Centre features an advanced Building Automation System that allows staff to crunch data to scientifically identify issues, maximize energy efficiency, reduce costs and improve comfort.

“Net zero design doesn’t automatically mean it will perform to that standard. It’s not ‘set it and forget it.’ We are adjusting and learning every day,” says Steve Jankus, Energy and Automation Systems Specialist in Facilities Services at Mohawk College.

Modelling can only go so far, especially in a complex campus building containing labs, study spaces, a café, and dozens of classrooms, not to mention the challenges of managing oscillating demands during two years of closures and reduced campus activity during the pandemic.

Achieving net zero requires day-to-day management, a dedicated and innovative Facilities team, and a committed college leadership to nurture a culture of sustainability. The Joyce Centre for Partnership & Innovation at Mohawk College has them all.