McGill Facilities Management and Ancillary Services (FMAS) has announced that the university is once again participating in Hydro-Québec’s Peak Demand Management (PDM) program—marking its eighth year of participation—this winter. The state-owned energy corporation experiences periods of peak demand on especially cold days from December to the end of March, mostly in the mornings and evenings when people are likely to spend time in their homes. During these hours, Hydro-Québec encourages consumers, including universities like McGill, to use less energy.
Sixteen McGill buildings have protocols in place for peak demand hours, such as reducing or turning off energy-intensive systems. According to Jerome Conraud, director of utilities and energy management at McGill, the university’s measures work to reduce demand on Hydro-Quebec’s grid, but do not necessarily reduce McGill’s overall energy consumption.
“Many buildings across McGill have back-up emergency generators [….] During PDM events, we transfer these loads to the generators so that they are no longer receiving power from the grid,” Conraud wrote in a statement to The McGill Tribune. “This allows us to significantly reduce demand on Hydro-Québec’s grid while minimizing impacts to operations within the building.”
For residential consumers, Hydro-Québec advertises a dynamic pricing system that offers discounts to individuals who reduce their energy use during peak demand hours. Similarly, McGill receives money from Hydro-Québec for its participation in the PDM program, which are then used to cover operational costs such as staff wages. The money also goes towards improving energy systems on campus, with any remaining funds allocated towards other energy-saving initiatives like investing in energy-efficient infrastructure at McGill.
Donald Smith, a professor in the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (AES), believes that McGill’s incentive to participate in and advertise the PDM program is not purely environmental.
“There could be an economic incentive. There’s an overall environmental and social consideration around that, too, because if [energy usage] gets spread out […] an entity like Hydro-Québec doesn’t have to go off and dam more rivers,” Smith said. “I’m sure from McGill’s perspective, there’s a PR thing to it. I think they are generally trying to be conscientious about these things.”
While Hydro-Québec boasts 99 per cent renewable energy sources, McGill should still aim to reduce overall energy use according to professor and founding director of the Max Bell School of Public Policy Christopher Ragan.
“If we can […] use less energy, then, first of all, we can save money by spending less on even clean electricity,” Ragan said. “But it also means that society then has more clean energy available. Because whatever Hydro-Québec is producing, if we use less of it, then there’s more available for other uses, including to displace dirty energy.”
McGill also limits the number of running elevators and electric heating units in certain buildings during the PDM period. Smith added that there are important trade-offs to be considered when decreasing energy usage campus-wide. He explained that while energy efficiency is crucial, McGill would receive negative feedback if those energy efficiencies interfered with accessibility essentials—for instance, having reliable elevator service.
Conraud stressed in his statement that McGill has other initiatives in place that aim to reduce energy use on campus as part of the university’s Climate and Sustainability Strategy.
“McGill has made major investments into reducing energy consumption,” Conraud said. “Since 2013 we have reduced our energy and carbon intensity by 15 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively, with many more projects ongoing and planned to further reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions.”