Clean Energy Engineering project studies campus water usage

Not approved

Adriana Velazquez completed her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering in Mexico City but was always intrigued by sustainability and “green” power. After researching various master’s programs and universities — and running a marathon in Vancouver — she fell in love with the Master of Clean Energy Engineering program at UBC, and the city of Vancouver.

Velazquez is in her last term of the program, which requires a research project and report on a topic related to clean energy. After hearing a presentation from University Neighbourhoods Association (UNA), Velazquez began researching the benefits of sub-metering — meters that measure water usage of each housing unit within an apartment building.

Apartment buildings’ meters typically collect the entire building’s water usage, and building administrators then divide the cost by the number of units and bill each one respectively. However simple, this method doesn’t encourage tenants to use less water or inform them on how much water they are using.

By working alongside the UNA and UBC Properties Trust, Velazquez will monitor water usage on the UBC Vancouver campus to compare three different kinds of metering and the impacts on customer water-consumption habits.

To compare the impacts of different types of metering, apartments in the first study group are sub-metered for hot and cold water and tenants are given information for their consumption rates, but are not billed for direct usage. The second group is informed and billed directly based on their hot-water consumption rates. The third group will continue the typical method that meters and divides the entire building’s water consumption without providing specific user information.

Velazquez’s research into similar studies has found that people use significantly less water when they are being billed directly for their water usage. Her-three month project will finish in December, and she expects the results to reflect these findings.

“I want this to be a starting point for a bigger project,” she says. One advantage of the Clean Energy master’s program is that it allows Velazquez to take advantage of its resources and connections to develop her project.  

By partnering with UBC Campus Sustainability’s Social Ecological Economic Development Studies (SEEDS) program; its manager Brenda Sawada; and other partners, including Chadwick Choy from the UBC Properties Trust, Ralph Wells from the University Neighbourhoods Association, and Kyle Rees from Campus Sustainability, Velazquez has gained project expertise and a mentorship throughout the process.

The partnership allows Velazquez’s project to become a part of the bigger sustainability movement on campus, with her research being added to the SEEDS library. The connections she develops within the campus community will amplify the impact of her work far beyond the scope of a class project.

Velazquez received an AMS Sustainability grant worth more than $6,000, which will go to support project costs. As part of her commitment with the AMS Sustainability Office, she also maintains a blog to report the project’s progress.

She has received guidance from a mentor from FortisBC, benefiting from the connections between her program and local industry. “I think the more people involved from industry, the more enriching the experience will be.”

Velazquez credits her UBC Instructor, Eric Mazzi, for helping her realise the benefits that she and other UBC graduate students have to offer employers and industry partners.

“Our industry partners receive a job well done, and the graduate students’ projects can pave the path for further research,” she says. “Students provide a fresh perspective. If you don’t bring new ideas, a change may not happen.”

Despite the challenges she has encountered throughout her project — collecting data, conducting meetings and working with numerous stakeholders — she has found it to be an excellent learning opportunity, with valuable experiences from contact with industry.

“They provide expertise in the field and a real-world perspective of how things work,” she says.

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