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Peak Shaving Generator and Electric Boiler Project

What is the Peak Shaving Generator/Electric Boiler Project?

The cornerstone of the university’s Net Zero Carbon Roadmap plan is the planned installation of two new electric boilers, due to be installed in 2024, that will offset steam production from natural gas boilers on campus. This will significantly reduce carbon emissions while providing essential heating. This is a companion project to the installation of the peak shaving generators, which will supply energy during peak times such as the hottest days of summer. The project will also result in significant energy cost savings. Together, these initiatives will reduce net carbon emissions on campus by 21%. 

On the road to net-zero 

McMaster has many projects underway that, together, will reduce the university’s carbon footprint and have real and lasting impacts for creating a sustainable campus. Initiatives include McMaster’s peak shaving generators/electric boilers project, the installation of geothermal technology, the McMaster Carbon Sink Forest, researching sustainable agriculture, building a community fridge, the development of a sustainable procurement program, and much more. 

Read more on McMaster’s Countdown the Earth Day and Sustainability Strategy. 

The role of peak shaving generators 

During peak demand for electricity, the province operates natural gas generators to supplement the electrical grid. In the coming years, the province is anticipating significantly increased demand for power, which could result in grid reliability issues on peak energy demand days. 

To help reduce demand on the provincial grid, and to ensure that the university has a reliable source of back-up power, McMaster is installing new natural gas generators, which will be used during peak energy demand days. This is part of McMaster’s participation in the Industrial Conservation Initiative (ICI) program by the Independent Electrical System Operator (IESO). 

Learn more from McMaster Mechanical Engineering Professor Jim Cotton on how the peak shavers fit into the Net Zero Carbon RoadMap at the university. Cotton, an expert in sustainable energy and part of the Centre for Climate Change, consulted with the university on the peak shaver project. 

Key facts: 

  • It is anticipated the peak shaving generators will run no more than 100 hours a year, or the equivalent of 4 days a year. They will only run on weekdays between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. 
  • The peak shavers represent 1-2% of McMaster’s total carbon emissions. These emissions will be offset by the installation of electric boilers, which will result in a 23% reduction in carbon emissions on campus. This is a net carbon reduction of 21%, the equivalent of taking 2573 gas-powered cars off the road.  
  • By the end of next year, McMaster will cut its overall carbon emissions by 42%, the equivalent of taking 5147 gas-powered cars off the road, and well ahead of targets set by the Paris Agreement goals.   
  • Participation in the IESO’s peak shaving program will significantly reduce the university’s electrical costs. These savings are being used to purchase and install the electric boilers which will significantly McMaster’s reduce carbon emissions.  
  • In the event of a widespread power outage, the generators will also act as back-up power for McMaster’s campus, powering critical infrastructure such as medical research laboratories. 

The role of renewables 

There’s no one solution to achieve net zero carbon emissions on campus, and we are exploring a range of existing and future renewable technologies as part of McMaster’s Net-Zero Roadmap, including photovoltaic (solar) installations and carbon capture strategies. 

McMaster has installed some solar thermal technology at the Ivor Wynne Centre and is installing geothermal technology to power McMaster’s new greenhouse, which is currently under construction. The university is also exploring the expansion of geothermal energy on campus. As this technology is costly, geothermal will be installed over time, provided the installation of geothermal is technically possible in locations across campus. 



What are peak shaving generators? 

On the hottest days of summer, peak shaving generators take pressure off the provincial power grid when energy demand is at its highest to ensure the province can meet its “peak” energy needs.   

Why doesn’t McMaster use renewable energy sources to meet its peak energy needs? 

McMaster has a responsibility to make sure critical infrastructure on campus, such as research labs, remains operational. While we are committed to installing renewable, clean technologies as soon as we can, the renewable technologies with the potential to meet McMaster’s peak energy needs such as photovoltaic and battery technology are not yet sufficiently reliable, robust or scalable.   

Why doesn’t McMaster use battery technology during times of peak energy demand? 

During peak energy demand, the generators could run anywhere from 1 to 8 hours at a time. The discharge time of a battery system is very limited – approximately 2 to 4 hours based on McMaster’s peak energy needs. This introduces risks when trying to meet the university’s peak energy demand, as batteries may not be sufficiently robust to meet McMaster’s energy needs. There were other aspects of battery systems that were also considered, including the environmental damage associated with the mining of raw materials. 

Why doesn’t McMaster use photovoltaic (solar) technology during times of peak energy demand? 

Solar is an unreliable energy source on cloudy days and would require battery technology to store the energy. Additionally, photovoltaic technology is cost-prohibitive – three times the cost of the peak shaving generators.   

Why doesn’t McMaster “chase the peak”? 

Powering McMaster’s campus is similar to powering a small town and requires consistent power to maintain operations, including crucial laboratory experiments that have global impact.  

In the summer of 2014, McMaster introduced the “chasing the peak” program, which brought in energy-saving measures across campus during times of peak energy demand, such as cutting back on air conditioning. While the program successfully reduced energy consumption on campus, it put critical temperature-sensitive research at risk and led to the loss of research experiments – in some cases, resulting in years of lost research. McMaster has a responsibility to maintain key operations during peak energy periods and that means ensuring there is a reliable source of power generation. 

Is McMaster considering using cleaner sources of fuel to power the generators? 

Yes. McMaster is continuing to look at ways to reduce the carbon footprint of the peak shaving generators and is exploring both renewable natural gas and sustainably sourced natural gas to run the generators. Renewable natural gas is carbon neutral and would produce no additional carbon emissions. 

What is the cost of the Peak Shaver/Electric Boilers project? 

The peak shavers are part of a Peak Shaver/Electric Boilers project, approved by the Board of Governors in 2021. The total cost for the project is approximately $31 million. 

What are the anticipated savings from the installation of the peak shaving generators? 

The savings achieved by participating in the IESO’s peak shaving program are estimated to be between $1.8 to $3 million per year. McMaster’s savings come from discounts to the global adjustment portion of our hydro bill.  The peak shaving generators produce 10 megawatts of power an hour – the generators are anticipated to run between 60 to 100 hours a year. Currently, we anticipate the cost of the Peak Shaving Generator/Electric Boilers project will be recouped in 13 years. 

What is the anticipated lifespan of the generators? 

It depends. The peak shaving generators will pay for themselves within four to five years. It will take an additional seven to eight years to achieve the cost savings needed to fund the installation of the electric boilers and other renewable energy projects. After that, McMaster will use the generators primarily as a source of emergency back-up power to keep critical infrastructure, such as medical labs, running in the event of brownouts or blackouts. The total life of the generators will depend on how long the IESO peak shaver program is in place, which is unknown at this time and will depend on how quickly the province is able to bring new sources of clean energy online. 

When will the electric boilers be installed to offset the carbon emissions from the peak shavers? 

It is anticipated the electric boilers will be installed by the end of 2024. 

What was the approval process for the peak shaving generators? 

The peak shaving generators followed McMaster’s usual approval and governance processes for projects of this kind. The project was brought to McMaster’s University Planning Committee and was approved by the Planning and Resources Committee and McMaster’s Board of Governors. All these governance bodies include graduate and undergraduate student representatives whose input is critical to the university’s decision-making processes.