New substation to help power campus growth

By Jason Winders
May 08, 2014

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SUBSTATION_locationSpecial to Western News
The new West Substation will be located on the west side of the Social Sciences Centre, between the building’s parking lot and the University Community Centre. The substation will expand on an existing smaller substation, currently located at the site.

With energy demand pushed to the brink across the campus core, Western is planning construction of a new electric substation this spring – one Facilities Management officials say will ease the strain on the existing system.

The new West Substation will be located on the west side of the Social Sciences Centre (SSC), between the building’s parking lot and the University Community Centre (UCC). The substation will expand on an existing smaller substation, currently located at the site and servicing only the SSC.

Construction on the $3.5-million project will begin this month or next with the expectation of it being operational by December or January.

The project is necessary not only for the university’s energy infrastructure, but for the its future plans as well, said Vic Cote, Facilities Engineering interim director.

“Quite often, energy users don’t see the infrastructure – especially on a university campus,” Cote said. “But this project is an important component to following our Strategic Plan towards a more research-intensive university. It’s an important infrastructure piece that needs to be put in place sooner rather than later.”

This need, Cote continued, is all about supply and demand.

Currently, Western’s core campus is served by three London Hydro-fed, yet university-owned, substations – North Substation, located in the University Hospital area; East Substation, located between the Visual Arts and Chemistry buildings’ parking lots; and South Substation, located behind Alumni Hall. North and East were constructed in 1993, followed by South in 2002.

Current peak demand on the system has reached 96.9 per cent with no expectation of it slowing.

“The summer months are the period for our highest electricity demand,” Cote said. “If we do not expand our capacity, the university will begin to experience the equivalent of brownouts and will have to take steps to reduce demand. This would include reducing our air conditioning and cooling capacity on the main campus.”

Although the current infrastructure was built to power the campus until 2023, a building boom from 1997-2007 moved that date far closer.

On top of more buildings, energy demands inside all buildings have changed over the last several years. Research – especially medical and scientific – pushes the system, as does teaching in increasingly smarter classrooms. With more and more connected students bringing more and more smart technology to campus, additional electronic infrastructure is required to support them.

The university is now expected to exceeded usage by 2016, unless capacity is added.

“In order to open up opportunities for us to grow and expand, we need to increase capacity by 25 per cent. That’s our estimate,” Cote said. “This project will give us at least 10 years of growth, at our current pace.”

Although other sites were considered, including one in the D.B. Weldon Library parking lot, the final location answered all the necessary needs of the new substation.

It will provide new and additional feeders to the existing network of core campus feeders. These new feeders will be allocated, over time, to areas of the campus most in need of additional capacity and alternate sources of power. The highest priority areas are those with power connections from only a single substation – in other words, areas currently without backup.

“It’s similar to having two ways to get to your house,” Cote said. “You never know when you’ll need that extra way in.”

And campus has already seen what happens when it loses one of the three.

In June 2012, an overnight failure of an on-campus transformer within one of the substations sparked a power outage across campus. Extensive damage to the components that feed a transformer kept Western from full electrical capacity for weeks.

While sustainability continues to be a priority for the university, conservation cannot keep pace with demand.

“We are conserving. And we’re doing a good job of it,” Cote said. “We’ve had significant improvement in how we use power in these buildings, but if you look at the way we are using our buildings, as well as teaching demands, there  is no hint that increasing  electricity demand is going to let up.

“Following the university’s Strategic Plan, we are going to become a more research-intensive institution, and that means more power use.”

On the location, Facilities Management plans to screen the substation from the ground.

A solid wall barrier will hide the substation equipment, improving on the visual impact from street level, including from foot and auto traffic along Western Road. The barrier’s materials will be chosen to blend into those used to construct the SSC and UCC. Landscaping will finish off the area.

Due to the construction, some changes will be made to the pedestrian pathway. However, there will be no changes – like loss of parking spaces – to the adjacent parking lot.

“We realize it’s a sensitive location,” Cote said. “Aesthetically, we realize these types of facilities have shortcomings. So, we’re taking steps to screen and landscape, so it fits into its surroundings.”

This story originally appeared in the May 8, 2014 edition of Western News.























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