index.php

 An inquisitive, perceptive, and innovative engineering approach by Falcon Engineering helped Royal Roads University avoid unnecessary construction costs, as well as disruptive work, in the design for a geoexchange ground coupling system for the Dogwood Auditorium.


The Project

A “geoexchange system” may sound complex, but it is really as simple as its name implies: exchanging “heat” from earth materials or groundwater below the earth’s surface with the building’s HVAC systems, so as to provide heating and cooling energy, all without consuming fossil fuels or adding to the building’s Carbon Emissions. Our blog, An Introduction To Geoexchange, gives an overview of geoexchange engineering systems.

Falcon’s Energy Engineering team has completed just such a project at the Dogwood Auditorium at Royal Roads University, near Victoria BC.

The Royal Roads Campus is situated at the base of a prominent escarpment slope. Areas on campus along the base of the slope have high water tables and, in some areas of the Royal Roads campus, footing interceptor drains are required to control shallow groundwater to protect buildings and infrastructure. Water intercepted by these drains throughout the year is collected and conveyed by pipeline as stormwater discharge. Several years ago, the campus irrigation system was outfitted to use water from the interceptor drains as the main source of water for grounds irrigation to make beneficial use of the intercepted water.

When a project arose to convert the swimming pool (originally built in the late 1950s for the former military college) to a new purpose, the Royal Roads planners wanted to ensure that reducing carbon emissions was an important component of the project plan and budget.

Royal Roads University selected Falcon’s Energy Engineering team, under a competitive RFP process, to examine the natural setting and propose a solution for an alternate energy system to be applied at the legacy building, repurposed as the Dogwood Auditorium.

The project to regenerate the building for learning and events space was opened in its new format in Spring 2021, including the geoexchange heating and cooling system. The system resulted in significantly reduced Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions for the Dogwood Auditorium, while providing the energy for comfort conditions throughout the year, with little reliance (peak heating) on fossil fuel energy.

From a Site Visit to Design of the Innovative Geoexchange System

Falcon was selected to design the new geoexchange ground heat exchange (GHX) system (HVAC design was already awarded to another firm), and in the summer and fall of 2019, conducted a thorough site-specific Geoexchange Suitability Assessment (GSA) to investigate the most suitable geoexchange options for the project site. The initial concept envisioned by Royal Roads University (RRU) included an open-loop water well geoexchange system, whereby groundwater would be pumped from one or more extraction wells from which the groundwater would be passed through a heat exchanger, and subsequently re-injected to the ground by one or more injection wells.

However, through the process of conducting the GSA, Falcon became aware of the presence of the significant drain water discharge. Exploratory investigations by Falcon of rushing water in manholes near the prospective Dogwood Auditorium led to the reveal of an existing, readily available energy source, already “plumbed” near the surface.

Falcon conducted further investigations and analysis to establish that the drainage water would be of sufficient flow quantity, and at a satisfactory temperature throughout a given year, before committing to the client that the drainage water would serve as a suitable and reliable ground source coupling for the geoexchange system.

Data from Environment Canada of seasonal climate norms over a period of approximately 30 years was critical to the analysis. Flow rates of the drainage water were measured over the spring and summer of 2019 and added to anecdotal information from the RRU Operators of the irrigation system. Together, these data sets were applied to a calculated “stress test” to ascertain the values of the drain water system as a source of energy to moderate indoor temperatures of the Dogwood Auditorium, as well as to ascertain the likely impacts of the “heat rejection” back into the drain water system during each of the four seasons. The combined analysis demonstrated that this drain water system could be relied upon as an appropriate energy source for heating and cooling the Dogwood Auditorium, and that heat rejection from the Dogwood Auditorium would not deleteriously affect the adjacent ocean water temperatures, to which the drain water from RRU flows.

Thus, Falcon was able to demonstrate the values of the proposed ground source coupling to the geoexchange system and was also able to demonstrate that the environmental impacts of using the ground source coupling (the drain water system) would not impose undesirable impacts (such as excessively warm temperatures) on the drain water or the ocean water.

With any type of retrofit or repurposing project, unexpected findings and conditions are prone to be discovered and this project was no exception. Although the intercepted groundwater-derived drain water had been used for many years by the irrigation system without any history of debris or sedimentation problems, new flows were recently added to the drain water system that included contributions from rooftop drainage. In many geographic locations, rooftop drainage would not pose significant problems; however, on the heavily treed RRU campus, rooftop drainage can be laden with organic debris. In this case, organic debris in the form of evergreen needles and other organics, entered the drain water system from the new sources and contributed to maintenance concerns for both the existing irrigation system and the new geoexchange system. A simple screen and diversion modification was implemented by the Project Civil Engineer in Fall 2021 and seems to be working effectively. Ongoing monitoring is warranted and perhaps additional modifications may be required.

An Energy Efficient Building System

The portion of the heating load served by ground source heat pumps for the Geoexchange System, employing energy derived from the flows of the drain water system existing on campus, results in a 98% reduction in emitted CO2e as compared to the “base case” of standard naturally aspirated boiler and standard air handling systems (commonly found in buildings of that age and utility).

Combined with the relatively low costs of drawing energy from the existing groundwater drainage system, when compared to employing a drilled well system and open or closed loop geoexchange system piping, the resultant system provided the client with:

  • a lower capital cost
  • very low energy consumption characteristics in operation
  • very low GHG emissions,
  • and comfortable conditions throughout the year.
construction of Dogwood Auditorium

A win for the client, a credit to the design engineers and installation contractors, and a credit to the institution (Royal Roads University) who commissioned the project.

Aligning with the Royal Roads University Climate Action Plan

The project to repurpose the former swimming pool at RRU into what is now known as the Dogwood Auditorium reflects the best in contemporary construction and facilities planning. As the Royal Roads University Climate Action Plan calls for significant GHG reductions by 2035, it was seen by University planners as an important aspect of the new use of this existing building that it would not add to the University’s GHG emissions, while simultaneously providing a much-needed events and learning space for the campus.

Consequently, as the geoexchange system delivers on the heating and cooling needs of the Dogwood Auditorium, it does not add CO2e liabilities for RRU, and provides modern ventilation and comfort conditions even when fully occupied by Convocation Ceremonies, University staff meetings, student study areas, and community events. 

From an Aged Facility to a State-of-the-Art Auditorium

Royal Roads University and Durwest Construction set out with a vision to repurpose an aged facility and transform it into a state-of-the art auditorium. The level of innovation and commitment to sustainable transformation is a remarkable and defining feature of the redevelopment project. Re-purposing of the drain water, that would otherwise have been wasted, into an energy source seemed to mesh well within the vision of this type of transformation. 

As a standard of practice at Falcon Engineering, we emphasize the importance for careful consideration of both the setting- and the building-specific features of a project, to thoroughly examine opportunities for development of a low carbon energy system. In the case of the geoexchange ground coupling at RRU Dogwood Auditorium, this standard of practice ensured that the opportunities inherent in the existing drain water system were recognized early in the investigation process, and subsequently led to an affordable and successful geoexchange system to serve the Dogwood Auditorium. Falcon Engineering feels honoured to have played a role on this team.

You can find out more about our Energy Engineering services here and more about our team.

If you have questions about our experience or the geoexchange work we do, get in contact by using our contact page.

Want to learn more about energy engineering? Check out some of our other blogs!

By Loïc Letailleur, P.Eng.


Four years ago, we used to play a game as a family while driving around – who could spot the next electric car? They were rare and sometimes you would go days without seeing one. Now, they are everywhere, every day, no matter which city or small town you are in. Most people likely don’t realize how many there are because they don’t all stand out (they aren’t just Tesla’s)! 

With the rapid adoption of electric vehicles comes the requirement for charging infrastructure. There are charging speeds (is the limiter of the vehicle or the charger), people’s driving habits and also public expectations. Without getting into the psychology of range anxiety or other concerns, let’s review some of the key points related to electric vehicle (EV) charging.

What are the different levels of Electric Vehicle Charging?

At Falcon, we provide capital planning services for all types of buildings. As a unique engineering firm, we have developed a proprietary costing database. We regularly update this database with our retrofit projects to provide new and existing clients with a detailed capital plan for their upcoming projects. We are even able to break budgets into project phases for comprehensive planning purposes.

  • Level 1 – Basic 120V wall outlet (15 or 20 Amp)
    • This will charge the average EV at approximately 8km/hr.
  • Level 2 – AC charger, 208/240V from 15A to 80A of delivered energy
    • This will charge the average EV at 15-80km/hr.
  • Level 3 – DC fast charger, from 20KW to 350KW
    • This can reach charging speeds over 1,000km/hr.
    • It bypasses the inverter in the vehicle.
    • Vehicles have limits to what they can accept for charge (not many can take 350KW).

What are the Electric Vehicle Charging Standards and how do they differ?

There is one Level 2 charging standard globally and it is the J1772 plug.  All vehicles have this outlet except for Tesla, which comes with an adapter.

Globally, there are three major Level 3 charging standards:

  • Tesla – Proprietary charger plug except in the EU.  The Supercharger network in the USA is slated to be opened to other vehicles, though this will require a special adapter.
  • Chademo – Asian standard, was adopted early by Nissan – many fast chargers will include a Chademo connector. Not many vehicles require this standard.
  • CCS – European standard, has become the global standard. It is the plug included in the majority of vehicles (except Tesla).

When assessing which charging level you will most frequently use, you need to assess the following factors:

  • What is your daily distance travelled?
  • Do you have access to charging at your residence? And what level?

The majority of individuals will drive less than 50 km per day, and their vehicle is parked for a minimum of 8 hrs overnight. This means for those fortunate enough to have access to charging at home, a simple Level 1 charger that will provide 8km/hr (60+ km of range overnight) is sufficient. 

electric vehicle charging map for British Columbia
Image Source – Google Maps

A Level 2 charger at home will allow for more rapid charging or allow for the charging to occur during off-peak hours (maybe not start charging until 0100 – with a time of day utility billing coming soon this may be advantageous).  On the rare occasion that you have returned from a long road trip with a nearly empty battery, you still don’t need to worry as overnight you will charge enough for the next typical driving day. If back-to-back extended trips are required, then a visit to a public Level 3 charger is an easy way to boost up the available range.

For individuals who do not have access to charging at their home, Level 3 charging will be similar to stopping at the gas station and will have to be done approximately once a week depending on the range of the car and the distances covered.

What about at Work?

ev charging system

One of the most frequent questions we are asked by Clients is should electric vehicle charging be provided at the workplace? To answer this, it is important to go back to the previous analysis of daily driving habits.  If individuals have access to charging, then it would be rare that needing to charge at the workplace (or the mall) would be required.  Even for people without home access to charging, the rapid increase in the number of public fast charging stations allows for easy access to charging needs people may have.  I would consider the availability of workplace charging a perk and not a necessity.

The exception to this is for fleet vehicles.

I am a Developer and What Should I Do?

In Part II of Electrical Vehicle Charging our engineering team will discuss the options for both existing and new multi-family and mixed-use buildings. 

Do you have any questions? Contact our skilled engineering team today and we can answer all your electrical engineering questions. 


Need to learn more about our engineering services? Visit our integrated engineering services page.

Want to learn more about electrical engineering? Check out some of our other blogs!

Are you wondering how to get the right retrofit for your project?

Our team of interdisciplinary engineers can provide customized niche mechanical engineering solutions for projects ranging from HVAC design to deep energy retrofits. Our team has a proven track record of results on these projects and are well versed in requirements for different client types. We bring a commitment to service that extends through design, construction, and post-construction activities.

Read on as we elaborate on some of our niche mechanical and industrial engineering services that set us apart from other engineering companies:

Capital Planning

At Falcon, we provide capital planning services for all types of buildings. As a unique engineering firm, we have developed a proprietary costing database. We regularly update this database with our retrofit projects to provide new and existing clients with a detailed capital plan for their upcoming projects. We are even able to break budgets into project phases for comprehensive planning purposes.

Mechanical engineering room

Design

Design is an integral part of the engineering and construction phase of your project. We are experienced with tailoring bespoke solutions that best suit

the need of your project’s purpose and building type. Some of our niche design services include:

Lifecycle-Centered Design. Building and engineering represent only a fraction of the overall lifecycle costs of a mechanical project. With this in mind, we take an approach that is not focused solely on the installation costs of a project. We include operating cost considerations like energy efficiency, ease of maintenance, reliability, and planning for replacements at the end of service life. Our lifecycle-centered design approach applies to all our projects.

Heat Pump Thermal Plant Design. We have developed several bespoke heat pump and heat recovery thermal plant designs. These archetypal systems can be adapted and modified to fit the needs of many building types and configurations. The systems have been designed to eliminate unnecessary complexity, undue costs, and to reduce the maintenance burden.

Retrofits

We know that every project has a specific purpose with distinct needs to suit the environment in which it operates. We have expertise in planning, managing, and implementing large-scale mechanical retrofits. We offer retrofits in the following areas:

Deep Energy Retrofits. The goal of deep energy retrofits is to provide systems that not only increase energy efficiency but also renew aging equipment to improve overall effectiveness and reliability. Often this involves the replacement of major components and systems. These retrofits often need to be carefully planned and phased in to keep the facility as operational as possible throughout the process


Conventional Energy Retrofits. If you don’t need a large-scale retrofit, our team is also able to replace building mechanical systems on a component-by-component basis. These could consist of boiler upgrades, terminal equipment replacement, and control system upgrades. We replace aging equipment or systems to optimize lifecycle costs and reliability.

Business showing their mechanical engineering systems

Prime Consulting. Having worked with both private and public institutions, we are experienced in consulting on contract awards for facility upgrades or new system implementation. Depending on the project, we can provide full design services as well as managing tendering, providing recommendations for contract award, and administering the construction contract throughout the implementation phase. Our experience with many different building types makes us well versed in the different requirements for all client types.

Industrial and Clean Facilities

At Falcon, we have developed specialist expertise for industrial buildings. From ventilation systems to specialty water system design, our team will develop the right solution for your facility. Some of our specialized areas include:

  • Precision environmental control
  • Clean-room filtration and contaminant control
  • Laboratory ventilation
  • Specialty exhaust and ventilation systems
  • Specialty process piping systems
  • Compressed air system design
  • Process heating and cooling
  • Process water system design
Mechanical room

Is it time for a retrofit for your facility or building?

We are confident that our team will deliver designs that will add the right components to your facilities’ systems to increase reliability and efficiency. Our engineering professionals are seasoned experts, who know how to create and implement a lifecycle-centered approach to your system upgrade. You can guarantee practical and innovative solutions, designed for your specific needs.

Have questions about a project? Contact us!


Need to learn more about our services? Visit our integrated services page.

Want to learn more about mechanical engineering? Check out some of our other blogs!

There is no doubt that climate change is one of the biggest issues facing our society. Globally, almost 60 billion tonnes of greenhouse gasses are emitted every year, while the current warming trend is proceeding at an unprecedented rate. In British Columbia alone, we have experienced havoc caused by climate change, from back-to-back years of record spring precipitation causing historic flooding followed by hot, dry summers that contributed to droughts and wildfires.

Why Now?

Since its inception, Falcon Engineering has been dedicated to providing efficient, cost-effective solutions to our clients. We have always encouraged going above and beyond Code and Regulatory baselines by showing clients not only the environmental benefits but also the economic payback over the investment of the systems. We have been fortunate to work with progressive forward-thinking clients that have seen the value in these systems, and have been part of projects that set the benchmark for low energy consumption in their respective sectors. As a firm, we wanted to look internally and see what changes we could make to demonstrate our commitment – and not just talk, but walk too!

wildfire

2021 was a year of extremes in British Columbia, beginning with record-breaking high temperatures in June, which spiked at 49.6°C in Lytton, breaking the all-time highest temperature ever recorded in Canada three days in a row. What followed was a catastrophic wildfire that wiped out the entire village of Lytton, destroying the majority of buildings and killing two people. Massive wildfires burned throughout the Interior of British Columbia in the region’s worst fire season on record, with firefighters struggling to keep control and thousands of residents evacuated from their homes. The cost of wildfire suppression totalled $565 million.

After an incredibly dry and challenging summer, winter bought record-breaking rainfall, which caused severe landslides and flooding, closing off all highways from southwest BC to the Interior. Hundreds of homes were evacuated, while thousands of livestock were killed as the waters rose. The towns of Merritt, Princeton and Tulameen were decimated as their rivers flooded.    

Climate scientists have predicted that extreme weather events, such as those experienced in British Columbia in 2021, will increase in frequency and severity, bringing massive loss and disruption, as well as high costs for governments.

flood photo

climate change certified

As a leader in green, energy-efficient building systems, we are dedicated to providing sustainable energy engineering to meet our client’s needs, and our consulting teams bring skill sets that are unique amongst engineering firms. Our experience with district energy systems (such as VIU’s Mine Water District Energy System in Nanaimo), low carbon heating systems, heat recovery systems, solar photovoltaic and renewable energy generation provide a unique range of energy-efficient design options that can be tailored to our client’s projects. Drawing on our extensive portfolio of successful projects, we work closely with our clients and design teams to achieve innovative and sustainable solutions rooted in established engineering principles. 

With our commitment to helping our clients achieve the most efficient electrical and mechanical systems possible, we looked at ways our company could do more to reduce our carbon footprint. To do this, we enlisted the help of Climate Neutral.   

What Is Climate Neutral?

Climate Neutral is a nonprofit organization working with brands and consumers to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. It was launched in 2019 and now works with hundreds of companies across more than a dozen industries globally. In just three years, Climate Neutral Certified companies have measured and offset over 2,000,000 tonnes of CO2e, equivalent to over 430,000 passenger vehicles being driven for one year.

Our 2021 Carbon Footprint

We worked with Climate Neutral as we measured and offset last year’s carbon emissions and identified ways to reduce future emissions. The process to become Climate Neutral Certified is a months-long effort to measure, offset, and reduce our carbon footprint:

Measure

We measured our 2021 carbon footprint at 169 tonnes. To arrive at this number, we looked at all of the emissions created from delivering our services, including employee commuting, business travel, utility bills, paper, and computer equipment. 

Offset

We offset these emissions by purchasing verified carbon credits. These carbon credits supported a portfolio of projects including schemes that will help avoid deforestation, improve forest management, support solar power generation, and encourage bioenergy generation.

Reduce

Last, but not least, we created Reduction Action Plans to help lower our emissions over the next 12-24 months, and the following are our first steps towards achieving this goal:

  1. We will reduce emissions from air and car business travel

We will write and implement a travel policy to standardize and regulate travel bookings. We will encourage staff to combine multiple projects per trip and reduce the number of in-person meetings by conducting virtual meetings.

  1. We will reduce emissions from employees commuting into the office.

We will be improving the bike storage area so that more staff can cycle to work and store their bike securely. We intend to introduce a bike-to-work incentive/sweepstake to encourage staff to walk, use public transport or cycle.

  1. We will reduce emissions from the use of paper contracts and couriers.

We have signed up with DocuSign to digitally send all our contracts in 2022. This will save paper and reduce emissions by cutting the use of couriers to deliver the physical documents.

To The Future

Falcon Engineering hopes to engage fellow consulting firms, contractors, and others in the industry to join in the commitment to reduce our impact.  The hundreds of brands certifying this year all go through the same process to measure, offset, and reduce their emissions. Together, Climate Neutral Certified companies are working to eliminate more than 1,000,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.  

At Falcon, we know we have to act now to solve a problem that we understand to be an urgent threat. We have committed to reducing our carbon footprint by 50% by 2030 and our Reduction Action Plans will help in achieving this goal. Climate change requires immediate action, and we’re proud to be part of the solution.

Climate neutral certified

The adoption of newer and more efficient technologies is constantly changing. In the 20th century we saw this happen with oil and gas furnaces replacing coal, as they provided a cleaner and more efficient alternative for heating. Today, the transition to even cleaner heating system solutions is occurring. The demand for heat pumps, electric heaters, geoexchange and more, have increased substantially, with the aim to efficiently heat buildings while producing less carbon emissions. It’s important to understand how these new heating technologies work, and how they can benefit the right space.

Whether you are looking for heating systems in a home, public building, or industrial facility, in this blog we go through different heating system alternatives – and help build the understanding for future heating and cooling needs.

Integrated technology applications

Integrated technology applications combine energy applications in a way that leverages the benefits of different technologies (for example solar and geoexchange). It is important to consider how various energy technologies, such as HVAC systems, lighting, and envelope systems, will be integrated into the overall project. The key link in integrated technology is building design focused on energy use. This results in cost savings with strong energy optimization.

Solar PV on a roof

Air source heat pump systems

Heat pumps are the future of heating and cooling. Air pumps don’t burn fuel to heat a building but rather extract heat from the air and concentrate it for use within the building. Air source heat pumps are roughly 2 to 3 times more efficient than burning fossil fuels, such as oil or natural gas, to generate heat. 

Geoexchange heat pump systems

Geothermal heat pump systems

We broke down the concepts of geothermal heating before in a previous blog. However, to briefly explain the concept, geoexchange efficiently heats and cools buildings using energy extracted from the ground using heat pumps. What makes this heating system ideal are the results. In many applications, well-designed geoexchange systems can nearly or fully eliminate carbon emissions associated with building heating and cooling.

Geoexchange systems run on electricity and can replace your conventional heating system, avoiding the emissions that come from burning fuel.

Ground source heat pumps extract heat from the ground and are one of the most efficient ways to heat your home.

“In fact, they can reduce utility bills by 70 percent over conventional systems, and they’re extremely reliable, with in-ground components that can last 50 years” (Sense, 2020). While they do have a high installation cost, they are also incredibly reliable systems.

The team at Falcon Engineering was able to assist with mechanical design for Crawford Bay Elementary-Secondary School back in 2009.

This project included a ground source heat pump which provided extensive heat recovery opportunities. Our engineering team worked with this client to provide a long-term heating solution.

mechanical engineering project

Conclusion

At Falcon Engineering, we have the experience to give our clients low carbon energy strategies to help guide their decision-making today, for achieving compatibility with tomorrow’s expectations. Our engineering services allow us to evolve with changing technologies to give our clients the best heating system solutions.

Learn more about our previous heating system projects here.

Want to learn more about energy engineering? Check out some of our other blogs!

References:

https://blog.sense.com/how-to-choose-your-next-heating-system

https://www.thisoldhouse.com/heating-cooling/21014980/geothermal-heat-pump-how-it-works

Renewable power is an ever-growing innovation with the goal to bring down costs and deliver on the promise of a “clean energy future”. In Canada, this delivery of a clean future is broken into two main low carbon electricity generating energy sources: wind and solar, which are replacing “dirty” fossil fuels. While it’s increasingly important we transition into renewable energy, it is important to carefully consider a full range of merits and drawbacks associated with all forms of renewable energy, whether emissions associated with biomass energy systems, loss of wildlife habitat associated with large hydroelectric dams, or wildlife risks associated with wind generating installations.

What is Renewable Energy?

Simply put, renewable energy, also known as clean energy, is derived from natural processes that are replenished at a rate that is equal to or faster than the rate at which they are consumed.

There are various forms of renewable energy, including wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, hydropower, ocean resources, solid biomass, and liquid biofuels. Each type of renewable energy contributes in a different way, and each technology can be integrated in a way that is often combined with other technologies to leverage the merits of each technology while managing their shortfalls to achieve improved performance and resiliency.

Renewable energy windmills

These emerging technology applications harness the power of nature for transportation, heating, lighting and so much more. It has developed due to the growing demand for less costly and more reliable energy alternatives to dirtier energy sources such as coal and fracked gas. Through innovation, the expansion of renewables has accelerated, and communities of all sizes are adopting clean energy. Renewable energy continues to grow, from rooftop solar panels to giant offshore wind farms, and countries are adapting to become more secure, safe, and better integrated each day.

Solar Energy

Our journey with solar energy has been ongoing for years as humans have been harnessing that energy to grow crops, stay warm and dry foods – although our process has changed. Today we heat homes, power devices and warm our water. Even more interesting, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, “more energy from the sun falls on the earth in one hour than is used by everyone in the world in one year”, illustrating the scale of opportunity for solar as a renewable resource.

Solar photovoltaics

Solar power is the conversion of energy from sunlight into electricity. “Solar photovoltaics (PV) are rapidly becoming an economical, renewable technology to harness renewable energy from the sun” (Government of Canada, 2020). Distributed solar energy generates energy for homes and local businesses, either through rooftop panels or community projects that can power an entire neighborhood. 

Solar energy does not produce greenhouse gases or air pollutants. Additionally, solar panels result in minimal environmental impacts beyond that of the manufacturing process.

Case Study: Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, Merritt, B.C

In 2018, the team at Falcon Engineering designed and supervised the installation of solar photovoltaic arrays to maximize energy production.

The gymnasium roof had a production array while, on the classroom block roof, an array was installed with 4 rows of panels: 3 rows at different tilt angles, and the fourth that had the ability to rotate its orientation (azimuth). Each row is separately metered and with power optimizers on each panel, so students can monitor in real-time the effects each installation has on the production of energy.

Since its installation in July 2018, the system has generated over 82 MWh of energy and has saved more than 32 tons in CO2 emissions – which is an incredible result!

PV Solar panels

Explore more of our previous projects, including our renewable energy projects here.

Conclusion

Falcon is a leader in the development and innovation of green, energy-efficient building systems. The team at Falcon provides electrical solutions for renewable energy, security systems, lighting design, and medium-voltage power. Led by our Principals Bruce Candline, Kent Galloway, Loïc Letailleur and Dan Le Blanc, our electrical engineering practice is the largest within the BC Interior.

If you have questions about our experience or the work we do with renewable energy sources, get in contact by using our contact page.

Want to learn more about energy engineering? Check out some of our other blogs!

References:
https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/science-and-data/data-and-analysis/energy-data-and-analysis/energy-facts/renewable-energy-facts/20069#L7

What is Geoexchange?

To introduce this topic, let’s start off with an interesting fact: Anything with a temperature above absolute zero (-273°C) has heat energy in it. As well, anything warmer than absolute zero has stored energy. Geoexchange technology captures and uses stored heat from the ground for providing energy-efficient heating and cooling for buildings ranging from single family residential homes to the largest institutional and commercial buildings. What makes geothermal energy even more interesting, is that this isn’t new technology. The technology has existed for decades and has been improved, and adapted upon. With wise and thoughtful design adapted to specific site conditions, geoexchange systems can be cost-effective, and can be adapted for homes, commercial and institutional buildings, and industrial process applications.

Why is there a growing interest in Geoexchange? 

Geoexchange heating and cooling (also sometimes referred to as ground source heat pump technology, or geothermal heat pump technology) is a technology option often considered as a part of electrification strategies for decarbonizing heating loads. In many applications, well-designed geoexchange systems can eliminate, or nearly eliminate, carbon emissions associated with building heating and cooling. 

How does it work?

The geoexchange principle relies on a specific application of the refrigeration cycle for transferring heat from one place to another. By moving heat instead of converting chemical energy into heat (e.g. fossil fuel combustion), geoexchange systems can often provide space and/or process heating (and cooling) in a much more energy-efficient manner than conventional heating or cooling systems. Geoexchange heat pumps can extract energy from low-grade heat sources (at temperatures below 5°C) and “concentrate” the heat to a higher temperature for delivery to a heated environment. Hence, heat pumps can be coupled to a ground heat exchanger (often consisting of buried piping within the earth) so that the ground becomes the heat source for the system.

The energy-efficiency of a heat pump is dependent on the temperature of the source/sink that it is coupled with. In heating mode, the energy-efficiency increases as the source temperature increases. In cooling mode, the energy-efficiency increases as the rejection temperature decreases. Because the undisturbed earth temperature is warmer than the average winter air temperatures and cooler than average summer air temperatures, the ground makes for an attractive heat source for winter heating and heat sink for summer cooling.

Vernon Secondary School installing energy engineering

Geoexchange Harnesses Renewable Energy 

The ground energy harnessed by geoexchange systems is renewable energy. Most of the energy captured by geoexchange is solar energy absorbed by the earth’s crust while a smaller portion is core geothermal energy. In the geologically diverse western cordillera of BC, the core geothermal component varies from site to site and in some cases anomalously high geothermal gradients may cause the core geothermal component to be significant. Although electrical energy is required to drive the heat pumps, carefully designed geoexchange systems are capable of achieving coefficients of performance (COP) exceeding 3.5 in heating mode (COP is the ratio of the total heat delivered by the heat pumps relative to the electrical energy required to drive the heat pumps). At a COP of 3.5, 71% of the total heat delivered is renewable energy transferred from the ground and the remaining 29% is derived from grid electricity. Types of 

Ground Heat Exchangers (GHX) 

Ground heat exchangers (GHXs) can take many forms, but all forms belong to one of two broad categories:

  • Closed-loop GHX systems which rely on conductive heat transfer between the earth and a network of piping through which a heat transfer fluid is circulated in a closed-cycle. Examples of closed-loop GHX include vertical closed-loop borehole systems and horizontal trenched piping systems.
  • Open-loop GHX systems which rely on the actual transfer of groundwater or surface water through the geoexchange cycle.

The four most common types of GHX are:

  • Vertical borehole GHX – Closed-loop (V-GHX). This method involves drilling a network of boreholes that are each typically 50 to 250 m deep (depth often depending on site-specific constructability factors). Two pipes are placed in each borehole with a u-bend connection at the bottom and heat transfer fluid is circulated through the borehole network. This is the most versatile method and can be adapted to the widest range of settings. However, the vertical borehole GHX method is typically the most expensive option when other options are available.
  • Horizontal trenched GHX – Closed-loop (HT-GHX). This method involves installing heat exchange pipes in trenches that are typically 1.5 to 3.0 m deep (depending on climate and soil conditions). Without the depth dimension, the horizontal closed-loop method requires a much larger footprint area to generate the same heat exchange capacity as a drilled vertical borehole system. Consequently, horizontal systems are limited to applications where large open areas are available (such as for schools with large play fields or agricultural operations with large areas of surrounding cultivated land).
  • Horizontal directional-drilled GHX – Closed loop (HDD GHX). The horizontal directional-drilled (HDD) method involves installing heat exchange pipes in drilled horizontal boreholes that are typically 5 to 10 m below the ground surface. Because the boreholes are drilled below the surface, this method results in much less ground disturbance than the trenched method. As with the trenched horizontal systems, the horizontal closed-loop method requires a much larger footprint area to generate the same heat exchange capacity as a drilled vertical borehole system. The HDD method can be well- suited where upper soils consist of laterally continuous fine-grained (easily-drilled) soils (particularly when deeper soils are unsuitable for cost-effective vertical drilling), or where extensive surface disturbance would disfavour trenched methods.
  • Groundwater Production/Injection Well Pair – Open loop (GW-GHX). Groundwater open-loop systems typically move groundwater from a producing well (or wells) through a heat exchanger and then return the groundwater (at a lower temperature in heating mode or a higher temperature in cooling mode) to the aquifer by injection well(s). In certain settings, these systems can be very cost-effective where high rates of high-quality groundwater can be produced sustainably. However, appropriate site conditions for medium scale open-loop groundwater systems are relatively rare, and conditions suitable for large-scale open-loop groundwater systems are rarer still. Furthermore, these systems typically require more diligent attention to maintenance, incur higher maintenance costs than closed- loop systems (particularly if the groundwater is highly mineralized or is otherwise not of high quality), require careful highly site-specific design, and require a licensing process that involves consideration of affects to existing groundwater users in the area. Large GW-GHX systems may also require navigating an environmental assessment process often including groundwater flow and thermal simulation modelling if the rate of groundwater production is large (in British Columbia an environmental assessment is typically triggered for projects involving groundwater production exceeding 75 L/s).

Systems comprised of a network of vertical boreholes are the most common type of geoexchange system – but sometimes other types of systems are suited depending on site-specific setting. (Source: Natural Resources Canada)

Common Misconceptions

There is a common misconception that the temperature of the soil/rock surrounding a closed-loop GHX remains constant despite the transfer of heat in and out of the ground through the GHX. As a result, there is a widely-accepted perception that geoexchange systems always operate at a consistent performance level because they supposedly tap an “unlimited availability of heat at a constant ground temperature”. Unfortunately, this perception is false and misleading and often leads to inappropriate applications of geoexchange. In fact, the ongoing thermal interaction between the heat pump system and the closed-loop GHX causes the temperature of the soils that are thermally coupled with the GHX to fluctuate. The GHX temperature varies in response to the “rate” (power) and the cumulative “quantity” (energy) of heat extracted from (or rejected into) the earth and can be quite sensitive to the relative balance of the annual heating and cooling loads. Temperature fluctuations are damped as a function of site-specific soil thermal properties and the size and configuration of the GHX. As a general rule, the better the soil thermal properties, the bigger the GHX, and the more balanced the annual heating and cooling loads, then the more stable the GHX operating temperatures. 

Proper accounting for these relationships is important for selecting appropriate GHX option(s) and it is crucial for supporting effective and sustainable design of the selected option. 

Relative Balance of Heating and Cooling Loads 

Closed-loop type of geoexchange systems operate most effectively when they serve both heating and cooling loads. In cooling mode, the heat is transferred into the ground causing the soils in proximity to the GHX to warm and store heat. Then in the winter cooling mode the stored heat can often be re-captured from the ground for heating purposes. In this manner the heat is essentially “recycled” from season to season, resulting in considerably less strain on the GHX, and allows the GHX to behave more as a store and less as a source of heat.

installing a geoexchange system

With careful design, geoexchange systems can be designed to sustainably serve one-way heavily dominant heating loads. For closed-loop type of systems, bigger GHX systems are typically required to serve one-way loads (e.g., more boreholes or deeper boreholes), and the spacing between the boreholes needs to be significantly increased so that the GHX is in thermal connection with a much greater mass of soil from which to transfer heat. For open-loop type systems serving one-way loads, greater attention to the separation between extraction and return points is required.

Importance of the Options Analysis Step

The cost for constructing the GHX portion of geoexchange systems varies by a factor of nearly ten-fold per unit capacity. 

The large range is attributed to many factors including:

  • GHX type (different installation methods with widely varying cost).
  • Relative balance of heating loads (unbalanced loads require bigger GHX that are more expensive).
  • Site-specific soil and rock conditions (localized ground conditions can be challenging for drilling or trenching which can significantly escalate cost, and because geological and hydrogeological conditions vary more widely in BC than in other regions, this factor has a more prominent effect in BC than elsewhere).
  • Procurement processes (amount and type of information provided to bidders and the type of process used can significantly affect cost).

An objective evaluation of site-specific conditions and available site-specific options at an early stage in the planning process can help identify unique geoexchange opportunities (improving technical performance, reducing cost, or managing risk), and can help identify constraints or limitations that may impede suitability for geoexchange adoption.

What are geoexchange solutions best suited for?

Along with air-source heat pump systems, geoexchange heat pump systems will play a crucial and growing role in efforts to decarbonize building heating and cooling. Geoexchange is particularly suited in the following scenarios:

  • Colder climate locations where air-source heat pumps are unsuitable or less effective. Geoexchange can decarbonize heating in northern BC, such as Prince George and Dawson Creek.
  • Settings where the ground can be used to store rejected summer heat, or sources of waste heat, for uptake for winter heating.
  • Settings where unique cost effective opportunities for ground heat exchange are available.
  • Settings where silent outdoor operation is desired (in contrast with air-source heat pump systems that often generate considerable noise).

The Importance of a Thorough Design

While geoexchange heat pump systems aren’t particularly complex, they do require thoughtful and thorough design, and particular care in optimizing the integration of the geoexchange subsystems including:

1) Ground Heat Exchanger

2) Heat Pump Plant

3) Distribution System.

Heat pumps deliver heat differently than combustion systems and the design of the systems needs to take this into account. Falcon Engineering has developed a core expertise in optimizing heat pump performance based on careful monitoring of the performance of several dozen large institutional geoexchange heat pump systems we’ve designed. We’ve aggregated a lot of lessons learned expertise.

Case Study

In particular cases, such as the Canyon Falls Middle School in Kelowna, our team implemented geoexchange technology to heat and cool the school. The system consists of a network of 24 boreholes drilled deep into the underlying bedrock to a depth of 600 feet. Along with geoexchange, the school was equipped with solar PV panels, LED lighting, occupancy based controls, and a network automation system to reduce the energy use intensity of the school.

Canyon Falls Middle School in Kelowna

The net result is a near elimination of carbon emissions relating to the operation of this school. In this case, Falcon Engineering Ltd. provided mechanical, electrical, and energy system engineering services including energy modelling and geoexchange system design.

Conclusion

As a leader in green, energy efficient building systems, Falcon Engineering is well-suited to identify and implement low carbon energy solutions, including geoexchange where it is suitable, or identify other suitable low carbon alternatives for specific buildings in specific settings. At Falcon Engineering, our clients demand low carbon energy strategies to help guide their decision-making today, for achieving compatibility with tomorrow’s expectations. Reach out to us to speak with our highly qualified team of engineers, scientists and technical analysts about your geoexchange needs.

Find more information about our services here.

Want to learn more about energy engineering? Check out some of our other blogs!

Electrical engineering is quite a big term, and actually very recent as well. Within the 19th Century, Electrical engineering was established as a brand of engineering that deals with technology and electricity. Electrical engineers deal with a wide range of components, devices and systems, all the way from tiny microchips to giant power station generators.

A part of that range includes wiring different forms of electrical components. However, projects dealing with lighting today – both residential and commercial, have changed drastically over the years. The adoption of technological advancements have led electrical engineers to have a hand in everything that uses, creates, or harnesses electricity. 

With all that said, electrical engineers play an integral role in lighting design, overall assembly of electrical components, and innovative solutions that are based on electrical code standards. How their role is critical in the development process of lighting design can be broken down into three categories: Function, energy efficiency and aesthetics.

Function

As mentioned earlier, the adoption of technology has strongly influenced the building systems and design disciplines. This holds true when it comes to commercial and residential lighting. The lighting system within a stadium compared to a two-bedroom home, has unique functionality differences. The success of an overall electrical engineer in the realm of architecture – means understanding the materials, physics, and mathematics that goes into the complicated structure.

ice rink lighting design for electrical engineering

In terms of a larger stadium for instance, there are many components and timelines the electrical engineer must abide by to ensure the project is completed. A project within a stadium is larger, and relies heavily on the coordination of architects, budgets and time. Because of this, electrical engineers are an integral part of achieving deadlines with projects this large in scope.

Energy Efficiency

energy efficient engineering

Electrical engineers are needed for every step within the project; including drafting the design, development and control. There is so much more to an electrical engineer’s role when it comes to building systems – in particular, in relation to energy efficiency. While the project may differ in terms of the scope, energy efficient buildings continue to hit an all time demand. With growing demands for upgrading outdated systems with the energy efficiency in today’s world – electrical engineers offer a huge role in adapting to these trends.

Energy efficiency lighting includes the illumination of a given space from less power by replacing high power consumption lighting with energy-preserving alternatives. Electrical engineers understand the concepts, bring technicality to the project and run the system behind implementation to provide renewable energy systems.

Aesthetics

Besides the technical aspect of understanding functionality, cost and operating an efficient flow within the process, electrical engineers play an important role in the overall aesthetic of lighting design. Consider a large structure; while it’s important to evaluate the cost, design, development, testing and equipment involved, one must also take into consideration that this is a structure which will eventually house people.

electrical engineering project

Because of this, electrical engineers will determine the quality of product and amount of lighting as a result. These aesthetics are critical in the overall comfort of guests, and the electrical engineer is key in establishing limitations involved.

Conclusion

No matter the scope of your project, an electrical engineer is integral to any process. While we are a one-stop-shop for mechanical and electrical engineering services, we also provide niche engineering services in the sustainable energy space. 

Falcon Engineering is a leader in geoexchange engineering services and energy modelling – Committing to long term solutions and in-house resourcefulness. As the largest mechanical, electrical and energy engineering practice in the BC interior, Falcon Engineering brings an unmatched breadth of experience to any project. 

Learn more about our electrical engineering services and what we do here.

Want to learn more about engineering services? Check out some of our other blogs!

Written By Jeff Quibell, P.Eng.

Many of the systems Falcon designs are inherently hidden from public view. The adage “out of sight…out of mind” certainly applies to much of our work. As a result, there isn’t generally much public awareness about the types of systems we deliver.

Changing Times

Times are changing. We’re in the midst of a remarkable shift in the way society in Canada, and indeed around the world, perceives the use of various forms of energy. Along with this shift is an emerging new appreciation for the value of energy.

Consequently, more and more attention is focused on energy systems of all kinds, whether for our cars, homes, or the public buildings we fund and occupy. In this new era, energy systems may still be out of sight, but with greater awareness of de-carbonizing goals, energy systems increasingly become top-of-mind features.

Aerial view of Kelowna

Engineers and scientists are leading the way toward implementing effective, practical, and affordable methods to conserve energy resources and reduce energy emissions without compromising reliability or performance. Our profession is responsible for sharing progressive information and some of the challenges we face to achieve such progress.

Accordingly, we feel an obligation to engage with our clients and the greater public. We wish to relay and share information about what’s being done now and what’s to come so that we can tackle some of our time’s biggest challenges.

What Falcon is doing

A few examples of the efforts Falcon is supporting to engage in BC communities:

UBC Okanagan, Kelowna, BC.  In collaboration with UBC – Okanagan, Falcon has delivered a series of guest lectures for 4th-year mechanical engineering students as they prepare to launch their careers. The lectures focused on practical (beyond the textbook) aspects of delivering high-performance HVAC energy systems.  Falcon’s Don Poole, Hayley Shearer, and Jeff Quibell gave a lecture series focused on practical aspects of HVAC design, practical applications of energy modelling, and a hands-on discussion of the merits and limitations of geoexchange energy systems.

Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo, BC. In collaboration with Vancouver Island University, Falcon teamed up with the Earth Science Department of VIU to engage with students and the public. For the past four years, Jeff Quibell has delivered annual guest lectures to upper-year geology students and a public lecture on the topic of Vancouver Island University’s unique Minewater Geoexchange System low-carbon district energy system.

Okanagan College Kelowna

Okanagan College, Kelowna, BC.  Falcon’s Don Poole is a born teacher. When not mentoring young engineers and technologists at Falcon, Don can be found at Okanagan College as a liaison instructor. He’s currently on hiatus from the College now as he doubles down on his teaching at Falcon. He specializes in conveying lessons learned “the hard way.”

NEAT, Energy Explorer’s Workshops. The Northern Environmental Action Team (NEAT), based in Ft. St. John, BC, does outstanding outreach work engaging with grade schools across northern BC and Alberta on environmental awareness topics. They invited Falcon’s Jeff Quibell to carry out several sessions introducing geoexchange heating to nearly all the Grade 7 classes in Fort St. John. Jeff delivered the first of these sessions in person before Covid-19 struck. Encouraged by the success of the first initiative, Jeff accepted a subsequent invitation to deliver several more sessions to Grade 5 classes (this time via Zoom, due to Covid-19). Using Zoom, NEAT drew school classes from several northern cities into the program, including Whitehorse, YT, Spruce Grove, AB, Ft. McMurray, AB, Drayton Valley, AB, Prince George, BC, and Fort. St. John, BC. In total, NEAT delivered 21 sessions to nearly 500 students. Following the sessions, Jeff commented, “the questions many of these Grade 5 students ask are so insightful”. It is so encouraging and rewarding to see such avid curiosity amongst the generation to come.

Classroom of engineering students
In pre-Covid times, Falcon’s Jeff Quibell conducts a session on Geoexchange Heating for Grade 7 students at the NEAT Energy Explorer’s Workshop, Fort St. John, BC.

Two Way Street

The above engagements are not just an opportunity for Falcon to convey information about technology; they’re an opportunity for a two-way dialogue for us to listen to concerns, uncertainties, and wide-ranging feedback. We may not hear this type of feedback if we remain insulated within our design teams. 

Engaging genuinely in the broader public sphere and learning to respond to such a wide range of views in a respectful, meaningful setting helps us become more effective communicators and better, more well-rounded designers.

Want to talk about your project? Contact us!

Written By Don Poole, P.Eng.

Falcon Engineering frequently performs surveys on existing buildings prior to an HVAC upgrade. Sometimes the equipment is ageing, or sometimes occupant comfort complaints trigger the upgrade. Here are the most common and effective means to improve comfort if air systems are being used to heat and cool spaces (if the terminal equipment is correctly sized). 

1. One Unit for One Zone

Similar loaded rooms can be combined into one zone.

My mentor, Doug Joorisity, and I sorted this one out years ago when the smallest rooftop unit that was available was 5 tons. We would often design two classrooms to be served by a single rooftop unit. The classroom with the thermostat was always comfortable, while the classroom without suffered significant temperature swings. Applying Variable Volume Variable Temperature (VVT) systems to this situation did not end satisfactorily. Once the 2½ ton rooftop unit became available, you could implement an appropriate solution.

A group of offices, such as a group of councilors rooms, can be considered a single zone if they: 

  • Share an outside wall
  • Have the same window size 
  • Have the same floor space

The room temperatures can be very similar in each room. The only problem might be that the occupant may want different temperatures.    

2. Ducted Low-Level Return

Reduces stratification and short-circuiting, improves ventilation effectiveness and saves energy.

When I was in high school, I noticed in winter that the woodshop mezzanine where projects were stored was always significantly warmer than the main floor. I didn’t think much of that until I became an HVAC engineer and noticed that the return air in these woodshops was at ceiling level. In an upgrade to one of these woodshops, with School District 23 in Kelowna, we installed a ducted return air grille at the floor level. Matt Garbelya at the District helped us figure a way to get a filter into the low-level return to keep fine sawdust out of the return duct. By using infrared temperature measuring devices, we could see the hot air, which would have been stratified to the ceiling, drawing down to the floor. 

After that, we employed a low-level return system at a large secondary school in Prince George. The existing system was multi-zoned, using the ceiling space as a return plenum and the return air grilles were merely egg crates mounted in the T-Bar ceiling. The upgrade replaced the old multi-zone systems with new ones, with low-level ducted returns employed in each classroom. The results? A school considered chronically cold in the winter became comfortable. The management noticed significant gas bill savings, and students were no longer wearing their winter jackets all day.  

School gymnasium with students playing sports
One low-level ducted return can eliminate stratification in this whole gym.

3. Positive Building Pressures

Minimizes drafts.

Rob Bruce, a sage and experienced commissioning agent, taught me that slightly positive pressure in a school significantly improves comfort. He spent many years in northern Alberta and knew how much difference it makes. 

The point of pressurizing a building during the occupied mode is to eliminate drafts through the building envelope. We deployed methodology on a significant HVAC upgrade at a school in the Okanagan Valley. Prior to the upgrade, the receptionist in the central office near the main entryway was always cold. They even had an electric heater under desks to warm their feet. When interviewed after the building was positively pressurized, they reported that they didn’t need the heater all winter, and they were considering removing the heater completely!   

4. Dedicated Relief Exhaust

Enables full economizing. 

I completed an HVAC update at a school in Vernon. It was an older school, and I assumed that the building was leaky enough that a relief system wouldn’t suffice. That was at a time when we started to use demand control ventilation, so we measured CO2 levels. We noticed that CO2 levels in one room, in particular, would sometimes spike way beyond the limit. We experimented with the teacher – one full-class day with the door to the room closed and one day with the door open. The trend logs showed that, with the door open to form the relief path, the CO2 could be maintained at acceptable levels. We introduced a dedicated relief exhaust system and solved the CO2 problem. In addition, we achieved full free cooling (also known as economizing). Without the relief exhaust, such function was severely hindered. 


The moral of that story is “You can only shove air into a pop bottle for so long”! 

HVAC Vent on a roof
Dedicated relief exhaust with a gravity backdraft damper, used to serve a large portion of the school.

5. Tempered Outside Air

Natural ventilation isn’t effective when it is -18°C (0°F) outside

A new college building in the Interior was designed to employ natural ventilation for the outside air source. We deemed the stack effect insufficient, so we introduced large fans to create a negative pressure in the atrium. Some of the outside air was tempered, but the bulk of outside air entering the building leaked through building envelope cracks. The design resulted in awful cold drafts. 

We introduced a make-up air system to reduce the negative pressure, and it helped, but nearly every single office in the whole building had a plug-in electric heater. Whatever energy the original designer hoped to save with the natural ventilation system was more than lost with the electric heaters. It was unfortunate that so many people suffered needlessly. 

tempered outside air outlets
Down blast air outlet was so bad that it was necessary to install a sheet metal deflector.

6. Air Outlet Velocity in the Occupied Zone is Less Than 0.25m/s (50 feet per minute)

A school hired us to investigate a problem in which classroom occupants complained of drafts. Linear diffusers were initially installed at the perimeter (presumably to wash the wall), but they were installed about 2 meters off the wall. The air outlets were too noisy with the outlets aimed horizontally, so the air outlets were left pointing downward. The cooling mode produced intolerable drafts. We replaced the linear diffusers with standard cone-style diffusers, solving this draft problem.

Conclusion

Configuration of the supply and return air systems in a classroom will significantly impact occupant comfort. This is especially true for areas experiencing extreme outdoor temperatures for both heating and cooling. We have seen significant comfort improvements in deploying the above strategies, so it’s well worth the time and effort to keep these tactics in mind during the initial HVAC design. In some cases, we see significant energy savings as well.

Let us know if you have any questions by using our contact page!

Want to learn more about mechanical engineering? Check out some of our other blogs!