UBC Powerhouse: 1925 to 2017

Built in 1925, the UBC Powerhouse has been in continuous service, providing the campus with steam thermal energy for 90 years. The powerhouse was built as the centerpiece of the original UBC Steam District Energy System (SDES). At its peak, the facility supplied steam to over 130 UBC buildings and produced over 785,000,000 pounds of steam annually.

Classified as a class 1 power plant, the powerhouse is managed by a First Class Power Engineer, known as the Campus Chief Engineer. The powerhouse is one of the largest facilities producing thermal energy in the Lower Mainland.

Power house 1925

Power house 1925

old coal fired plant

The powerhouse had three coal-fired boilers originally, and coal arrived on campus via a light railway system. Boilers 1 and 2 were coal fired. Boilers 1 and 3 were replaced by fuel oil-fired boilers in the 1950s. Boiler 2 was replaced by a natural gas (NG) fired boiler in 1965, and boilers 1 and 3 were retrofitted to NG.

Powerhouse ~1965

Powerhouse ~1965

Powerhouse Evolves as UBC Grows

The University continued to grow, and the powerhouse was extended in the early 1960s. Two additional NG boilers were added to meet campus thermal energy demands. By 1969, there were five NG boilers in place, and the powerhouse achieved a peak thermal production capacity of around 450,000 pounds of steam per hour.

Boiler 3 was permanently decommissioned in 1973. Multiple efficiency projects have been carried out since then, to improve the powerhouse’s performance and reliability. Improvements include retrofitting the control system to a full Distributed Control System (DCS). Boilers were previously operated at local positions. We centralized control of all the boilers and auxiliary equipment into a new purpose-built control room. These changes allow the powerhouse to operate around the clock, and there are two Shift Engineers on duty at all times.

Other Services

In addition to producing thermal energy, the Powerhouse contains the University’s potable water pumping station, which supplies drinkable water to the main campus. The facility is also home to the Mechanical Utilities Engineering group consisting of Professional Engineers, technical experts, Utility Maintenance Engineers, steamfitter and plumbing crews, as well as the associated workshops and stores. The engineering group manages, operates and maintains all of UBC’s mechanical utility systems collectively.

Powerhouse Soon to be Decommissioned

The powerhouse has been identified as the main source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on campus, producing over 55,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually. We’ve developed the new Academic District Energy System (ADES) as part of the UBC Climate Action Plan, to address the high levels of powerhouse emissions and to meet aggressive campus GHG emission reduction targets.

Once the ADES construction is complete, the powerhouse will eventually be closed. The powerhouse’s capacity will be reduced in phases from 2015 to 2017. Boilers 1 and 2 will be decommissioned over the summer of 2015. Boilers 4 and 5 will remain in service, but in a hot standby condition, meaning they’ll be immediately available for thermal production, but not actually producing thermal energy, unless required.

The Powerhouse will remain in this status until the transition to the new ADES is complete. The final powerhouse decommission is estimated to occur in late 2016 or early 2017, and the powerhouse site will be cleared and repurposed.