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SFU establishing low carbon innovation centre for Metro Vancouver

Russell Hixson
SFU establishing low carbon innovation centre for Metro Vancouver
PROVINCE OF B.C. — Simon Fraser University sits atop Burnaby Mountain in B.C. The school has been tasked with establishing a low carbon innovation centre as part of a national effort to reduce carbon pollution in major metro areas.

A new partnership aims to establish a series of innovation centres across the country to accelerate low carbon initiatives.

The Low Carbon Cities Canada (LC3) network is partnering with major cities and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for the project, which will create and connect centres in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax.

In Vancouver, Simon Fraser University’s Renewable Cities program has been tasked with creating the Metro Vancouver region’s centre.


Construction will be key

Alex Boston, executive director for SFU Renewable Cities, explained he is already meeting with leaders in the construction industry which he believes will be a major part of the effort.

“I would say that hands down, in all these centres, the new building construction and the building retrofit backlog is going to be really important,” said Boston. “But also potentially large infrastructure projects.”

He plans to have robust participation from the industry to help co-ordinate and tailor the centre’s efforts for the Metro Vancouver area.

“We will be working in a focused way on building the capacity of diverse players who are involved in construction and those are engineers, designers, architects, trades, subtrades and that work is already happening,” said Boston.


Getting the ‘triple word score’

The $22 million in seed money from the federal government for the centre will serve as an endowment that funds strategic investments in zero carbon innovation. Boston said the team will be looking for innovation that has good financial return on investments, reduces carbon pollution and has other peripheral benefits.

For example, helping offset costs of more expensive heat pumps for buildings leads to long-term savings because they are more efficient, reduces wasted energy and also improves a building or home’s air quality.

“Those are the kind of triple word score wins we are looking for,” said Boston.

He took the example further, saying the centre would also work to build the capacity to deliver a heat pump program by making sure the HVAC community has the skills and workers to install them.


Overcoming challenges

Boston said one of the major challenges will be something that has been looming over the construction industry for years: scarcity of workers.

“We have a shrinking workforce and a sustained demand to build buildings,” said Boston. “We have to be able to transform over the next decade into a more productive construction sector.”

He added there is tremendous opportunity in B.C. to do this with prefabricated construction and the forestry product industry. Not only will this help builders complete work, but it could create jobs in small forestry communities hit hard by wildfires and pinewood beetles. It also could help build the efficiency they need to meet ambitious climate goals.

“Prefabrication is an opportunity and growth sector that we have to move on,” said Boston. “We will either be an importer of it or an exporter of it. Let’s be exporters and policy-makers rather than policy-takers.”

Boston said over the next eight months, SFU’s Renewable Cities will continue stakeholder engagement and strategic planning work to establish and launch the Metro Vancouver LC3 Centre.

Input will be gathered from a range of stakeholders, including local and provincial government, industry, non-profit organizations and the finance sector, to ensure the centre prioritizes local needs and opportunities.


Follow the author on Twitter @RussellReports.

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