Quality and Productivity Database

Descriptive Title of Proposal: Utility Reduction Revolving Fund (URRF) – U of T’s Unique Approach to Implementing a Green Revolving Fund
Year Submitted 2017
Person(s) Responsible for the Idea
Name / Nom Title / Titre
Scott Mabury Vice-President, University Operations
Name of Institution University of Toronto (St. George Campus)
Office Address 27 King's College Circle
Simcoe Hall, Room 114
Toronto, Ontario M5S 1A1
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Telephone: 416-978-0231
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.
Name (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Scott Mabury
Title (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Vice-President, University Operations
Office Address 27 King's College Circle, Simcoe Hall, Room 114
Toronto, Ontario M5S 1A1
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Telephone: 416-978-0231
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.

The Utility Reduction Revolving Fund (URRF) is a unique approach to implementing a green revolving fund. It provides comprehensive funding to facilitate projects that result in reducing the University’s environmental footprint and utilities consumption.

The URRF, established in 2012, has been very effective in reducing utilities usage and expenditures. The fund provides comprehensive funding for projects that reduce utility use with a simple payback of five years or less. Utility savings realized through these projects, based on electronic meter readings, go to repay the loan. Ongoing savings are then passed on to the departments in the buildings where the projects took place. The “repaid” capital is then used to fund other projects. It is this reuse of the capital loan funds over and over which give the fund its “revolving” nature. One of the unique features of the URRF is that it applies incentive funding obtained from projects directly into building capital. Three major projects completed under the program include energy-reduction retrofits (at Robarts Library, OISE, and the Medical Sciences Building), resulting in cumulative savings of $8.3 million in energy costs to the faculties, $1.6 million in incentives, combined average payback of 1.4 years, and a reduction in GHG emissions of 12,876 metric tons CO2 since the completion of the projects. All three buildings were retrofitted with building automation systems, variable speed drives (VSDs), and other cutting-edge technologies which led to impressive results.

The fund, currently at $7.5M, is by far the largest of its kind in Canada and one of the largest green revolving funds of any University in North America. Priorities and goals of the URRF include: removing financial impediments to engage in projects with savings potential over a multi-year payback timeframe; significantly reduce GHG and utility resources used by buildings on the three campuses; education and engagement of building occupants on the projects being undertaken and inform them of opportunities surrounding sustainable activities which will lead to reduced resource usage; and addressing deferred maintenance within the scope of the project where possible. Numerous projects are currently underway utilizing this fund with dozens of other projects in planning.

Criteria Please submit one paragraph describing how the proposal fulfills each of the evaluation criteria.

The concept of the Utility Reduction Revolving Fund (URRF) is completely transferable. However many educational institutions are financially constrained – energy retrofits are often expensive and therefore not pursued but these opportunities can save institutions significant amounts money over the long term. Dedicated green revolving funds, such as the URRF are not commonplace but should be as they reduce consumption of a necessary commodity that continues to increase in price every year. Where green revolving funds do exist, they are often fairly small in real terms and therefore do not get the same magnitude of results available to larger well-endowed funds. Beyond the direct financial cost reductions on utilities costs, these programs and the projects they support, provide an opportunity for community engagement – particularly important when we are educating the leaders of tomorrow. Generally green revolving funds provide the capital money to pay for an energy reduction project. The realized savings return to the fund until the capital is fully recovered and then it is reused to support other similar projects. The high initial cost of many sustainability projects related to upgrading the built environment can deter departments, faculties and even campuses from implementing them, despite the fact that such projects often have very positive long-term cost savings – having a green revolving fund helps remove this impediment. One opportunity that is available to many institutions is government incentive programs. These provide funds to augment institutional funding and lessen the initial financial burden of taking on some of these projects. Our model, which may not necessarily be transferable in terms of the magnitude of the funding but can easily be adopted by lower levels of initial capital investment. We have demonstrated and promoted the URRF methodology adopted at UofT to other institutions and business entities.

Quality Impact

As important as new building performance, if not more so, is the performance of existing buildings. Major building retrofits provide the opportunity to improve function and performance - but how do we select a project to be funded through the URRF program? Prior to any funding being provided for a project, a business case must be completed. It must be reviewed by one of our in-house energy managers. It must be accompanied by a letter of support by senior academic or administrative staff within the building that the project will take place. It must be presented to the tri-campus URRF committee and approved by the committee. And finally, the Vice-President University Operations needs to approve the funding. This structured, discipline approach ensures that by the time a project has been approved to proceed, we have great confidence that the end product will meet the business case and the criteria of the program.

A number of major building retrofits have been completed through the funding provided by the Utility Reduction Revolving Fund. These projects have dramatically reduced energy consumption and GHG production in these facilities. The project infographic for each of the major building energy project completed so far, namely: (1) The Robarts Library Energy Reduction Project, (2) OISE Building Energy Reduction Project and (3) Medical Sciences Building Energy Reduction Project are available on the Facilities & Services website at: http://www.fs.utoronto.ca/ - each infographic contains the summary information for each of the projects mentioned (infographic for each of the major project mentioned here also attached with this submission as supporting documents).

As previously mentioned, a mandatory requirement of any URRF project is electronic meter verification. This ensures that the results of the project are what were originally anticipated and provides opportunity to learn should the results be significantly different, whether positive or negative from the business case presented to the URRF Committee. The additional value of this oversight is ensuring ongoing savings long after the project has paid back the original loan. We are tracking in real time the results of a project that was completed over four years ago. Many energy reduction initiatives provide initial costs savings but as time goes by, the savings lapse. Through the continued oversight of our energy managers and using data from the project electronic meters, building operations can ensure that the modified building continue in an efficient manner. We are rapidly approaching the $5M in savings milestone on our first energy reduction project undertaken at the Medical Science Building.

Productivity Impact

Taking into consideration the three major energy-reduction projects (at Robarts Library, OISE, and the Medical Sciences Building) that were funded through the URRF, the resulting savings have been remarkable.

In the last four years, these three projects have yielded:

  • cumulative savings of over $8.3 million in energy costs,
  • received $1.6 million in incentives that flow back to the fund,
  • combined average payback of 1.4 years, and
  • a reduction in GHG emissions of 12,876 metric tons CO2.

The savings and incentives generated by these three major URRF projects are tremendous considering that they have more than doubled the total implementation cost of $4.9M for these three projects. To consider the environmental impact, the cumulative GHG reduction of 12,876 metric tons CO2 generated by these three major projects so far is equivalent to the GHG emissions generated by 1,360 average homes per year.

All three buildings were retrofitted with modern building automation systems, variable speed drives (VSDs) on ventilation equipment, and other unique and cutting-edge technologies which led to these impressive results. These millions of dollars in savings that would have gone to paying for utilities can now be put into teaching and research furthering the University’s academic mission. Furthermore, thanks to the funding from the URRF that facilitated these projects, the better ventilation (heating and cooling) resulting from these innovative projects will provide students and employees a better quality building experience. Having the optimal ventilation, heating and cooling will make students and employees more productive. As most of us have experienced at one point or another, it is quite hard to be productive and to concentrate when you’re in a building that’s either too hot or too cold. As an added unforeseen benefit, the air noise levels in the building(s) dropped to the point that occupants thought the fans had shut off when in fact they were still in full operation thus contributing to a quieter work and study environment. Stakeholders of the buildings will have a better quality experience at a much higher level since they know that their building is being run as optimally as possible and that it is their department who will ultimately receive the benefit of the resulting cost savings. It is also enriching for the wider University community to know that we are constantly finding ways to reduce our energy use and therefore reduce the resulting greenhouse gas emissions resulting from our operations – it proves to the wider University community that we are an institution who care about cultivating an environmentally-friendly culture.

As part of President Meric Gertler’s administrative response to the report of the President’s Advisory Committee on Divestment from Fossil-Fuels, the URRF was increased by 50 per cent (from $5 million to $7.5 million), funded by central reserves, to expand the number and size of projects undertaken. An infusion of an additional $2.5 million will allow divisions to plan for larger energy-saving retrofits which will enable us to be better prepared to meet the province of Ontario and the federal government’s objective of reducing GHG’s resulting from our activities (i.e. Cap & Trade legislation).

Other projects that have been completed through this funding are smaller in scale and more recent in completion including lighting retrofits at Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library and Rotman School of Management (North). Ongoing projects include several Building Automation System upgrades and LED lighting upgrade projects at BCIT, Bissell, the Earth Science building as well as lighting retrofits to garage and 24/7 lamps (lighting that are on all the time for security and occupancy schedule). The 24/7 LED conversion project involves six underground garages on campus and eleven buildings - so far, garages located at Health Sciences, BCIT, Dentistry and OISE have been completed with other building locations still ongoing. There is also an ongoing project to convert high use lamps (lights that are on for more than 10-12 hours a day, year-round) to LED technologies at Woodsworth residence, 40 Willcocks Street, OISE and Gerstein Library.


Other institutions have green revolving funds however, several features of the URRF make it unique. Very few green revolving funds can match the scale of the URRF which now stands at $7.5M. It is actually one of the largest revolving loan funds in North America. Having a very large fund allows for very large retrofits to be undertaken which can have extremely significant cost savings. A well-endowed fund also provides for several projects to be undertaken simultaneously.

U of T’s Utility Reduction Revolving Fund is innovative for the following reasons:

(1) While there are many possible ways to structure a campus sustainability revolving loan fund, the URRF is unique in that it grows over time as projects get completed. All incentive moneys garnered from a project funded under the URRF program flows directly to the fund and will not be included in repayment of the project loan. This feature ensures that our fund continues to grow over time and that there is adequate liquidity to reinvest in several energy efficiency projects concurrently. Government agency incentives have grown our fund by over $1M in less than 5 years, incentives provided from Toronto Hydro and Enbridge.

(2) We measure all outcomes through electronic metering to ensure that we are achieving what we set out to achieve - on our three biggest projects noted earlier, our electronic metering technology has verified that we have actually met or exceeded our project targets; Most other green revolving funds used estimated savings and straight line loan repayment. In so doing, it is difficult or impossible to verify if the business case justifying the project meets its savings targets. Within the URRF program, we verify savings based on electronic meters installed as a mandatory part of all projects. Actual savings realized are used for the loan repayment so we can verify savings and learn from our experience. The institution can be assured that the savings envisioned actually materialize and the loan payments are repaid grounded in real savings on utilities.

(3) We engage and get approval from major building occupants so the stakeholders are aware and supportive of the project(s). This in turn provides an opportunity to educate and garner support for other sustainable activities on the campus.

(4) We have a tri-campus committee that evaluates the business cases for the projects submitted to ensure that the best projects are selected and that they meet our core requirements.

(5) We place a sustainability kiosk in the buildings where we have undertaken major building retrofits which assist in telling the story and engaging and educating the building occupants (the sustainability timeline also available on the Facilities & Services website is one of the components of the sustainability kiosk – link: http://sustainability_timeline.fs.utoronto.ca/).

(6) Our fund is large and as such has allowed our staff to think big and outside the box. The most recent major project, the Robarts Library retrofit, utilized a unique approach to using occupancy sensors that significantly reduced energy use in the building. In recognition of this project’s success, it earned the first Energy into Action (EIA) Innovation Award for the MASH sector in the over 1MW+ category. The EIA awards were made possible by the independent Electricity System Operator’s (IESO) Collaboration Fund and was launched by the Energy into Action program this year as part of their ongoing efforts to acknowledge organizations or institutions such as the University who continue to be leaders in conservation.

Supporting Documents