University Reduces Alarm Response Time

SCADA and alarm monitoring software protect university’s new campus heating system

In Canada, higher educational institutions generally use 60 percent of the electricity allocated to the educational sector, which is equivalent to that consumed by a city of 430,000 households. The operation of academic buildings is associated with significant amounts of water, energy, and carbon flows.1 Effective energy management improves the local and national environment by reducing carbon dioxide emissions that result from energy use.

SCADA systems are used to remotely operate and monitor universities’ complex heating systems from a central location. By monitoring and controlling remote equipment and resources, SCADA systems provide greater efficiency in terms of faster and more coordinated system control than human operation, as well as lower operational costs and better use of scarce human and financial resources.

Upper Deck Of Facility

UBC’s Bioenergy Research Demonstration Facility processes renewable biomass to generate thermal energy for heating.

Commitment to Sustainability
With 67,000 students and 18,000 faculty and staff, University of British Columbia (UBC) is British Columbia’s oldest and largest university. Its flagship Vancouver campus is spread over 100 acres and comprises more than 160 buildings — including classrooms, research labs, animal care facilities, 12,000 housing beds, an Olympic size swimming pool, 330-bed hospital, and the world’s largest cyclotron.

Until recently, heating these facilities was done by a 90-year-old steam plant and pipe network that was costly to maintain and frequently broke down.  In assessing their carbon footprint, UBC found that 80 percent of the school’s carbon emissions was coming from the natural gas being burned to produce the steam for the steam distribution system.

With the commitment of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 through climate-action initiatives, UBC embarked on an ambitious six-year upgrade. In 2011, UBC created the action plan for a steam-to-hot-water conversion project, which was completed in 2017. The new $88 million, 45MWt District Waste Heat Recovery Project installs heat-recovery systems that reduce UBC’s reliance on natural gas. The new system redirects the heat recovered to the campus’ hot-water district energy system, which supplies the majority of its buildings with heat and hot water for a cleaner environment.

Ubc Operator

An operator watches over the UBC Campus Energy Center operations using the FactoryTalk HMI integrated with WIN-911 remote alarm notification software.

The system includes a new Campus Energy Center and a Bioenergy Research Demonstration Facility (BRDF), which was also upgraded to produce up to 70% of the campus’ thermal energy using clean, locally sourced wood chips and renewable natural gas to power turbines. Prior to installing the new system, over eight miles (14 kilometers) of steam pipe was removed. The new system connects more than 160 buildings to a highly efficient hot water district energy system that includes three 15 megawatt boilers and burns renewable natural gas to produce thermal energy.

BRDF was built in response to UBC’s need to generate sufficient heat and power to meet the campus’ growing energy demand through an affordable alternative fuel source that also reduces campus greenhouse gas emissions. The plant converts wood chips into a synthesis gas for heating as well as electricity generation through an internal combustion engine that powers a generator. A first–of–its–kind project in North America, the system processes renewable biomass to generate thermal energy for heating campus buildings. The new facility is constructed with cross-laminated timber – sustainable and versatile building material that stores carbon dioxide instead of emitting it.

The system reduces UBC’s reliance on fossil fuels, provides a quarter of campus heating needs, and eliminates 14 percent of campus greenhouse gas emissions. The new heat-recovery systems are also reducing UBC’s emissions by over 1,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually and will help recover one megawatt thermal, which would otherwise be wasted. Additionally, the new system is 24% more efficient than the steam plant and pipe network. In 2020, UBC tripled the capacity of its biomass plant, energizing 70 percent of the Academic District Energy System with clean waste wood, saving an additional $1 million annually and drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Engine Room

An operator inspects the engine room at the UBC Campus Energy Center.

Collaborating for Success
To operate and monitor this new heating system, the UBC engineering team is using a SCADA system that reduces complexity, and promotes efficiency and reliability within their operations. Collecting, processing, and examining the data in real-time is imperative to keep this system running smoothly. The automation crew selected a SCADA system specifically for its predictive and augmented maintenance advantages that allow them to easily manage and interact with critical data, promoting continuous improvement in the supply chains.

Enhancing the SCADA system is software that provides real-time critical remote alarm notification. The software’s “direct connect” integration with the SCADA system helps UBC eliminate any unplanned downtime. Connected seamlessly and directly to the SCADA system, the software sends remote alarm and event notifications to operators’ mobile phones.

UBC uses three standalone remote alarm notification systems. The first monitors the power source in the Campus Energy Center and the second monitors the hot backup. A third system monitors the various operations of the BRDF power plant. The most important task for the software is to make sure the three gas-fired water boilers in the CEC are maintained at an optimal level.

The SCADA system brings alarms into the software, which are filtered on four criteria – Names, Class, Severity, and Groups.

“The software we selected enables our operators to respond faster and more effectively to the ongoing changes and demands of our energy operations,” Industrial Controls Technical Specialist, UBC Energy & Water Services Huy Pham.

Control Room Floor

The UBC Campus Energy Center is a one of a kind state-of-the-art hot-water boiler facility constructed with the unique visual of cross-laminated timber.

Upgraded Software Notification System
UBC’s Energy & Water Services department recently upgraded to the software company’s new Advanced software platform to leverage the mobile capabilities.
“Any alarm that comes through is a critical alarm. We’re continually measuring the system’s temperature and pressure. So, when an alarm comes through the operator can quickly view, acknowledge, and respond [to an alarm] no matter where they are on campus,” Pham continued.

Case Study Alert Diagram 1024x441

WIN-911 remote monitoring software utilizes a variety of communication platforms to send notification from the plant equipment to the person responsible.

The software’s mobile app enables the operators to respond faster to ongoing changes and demands without being tied to the control room. With this upgraded software, the team can move onto the floor and visually check the engines and perform maintenance tasks without running up three floors from the boilers to the control room to simply acknowledge an alarm.

The new mobile app allows operators to drill down into reports from their smartphone, chat with team members to see what options are available and decide how to respond.

From a cost management perspective, this software allows the team to maintain the equipment with only one to two staff per shift by making their work much more efficient.

Steven Clawson is inside sales at Austin, Texas-based WIN-911 and may be reached at steven.clawson@win911.comThe company helps protect over 18,000 facilities in 80 countries by delivering critical machine alarms via smartphone or tablet app, voice (VoIP and analog), text, email, and in-plant announcer, reducing operator response times, system downtime, and maintenance costs. For more information, visit

1 Abdulazis Alghamdi, Guangju Hu, Husnain Haider, Kasun Hewage, Rehan Sadiq, “Benchmarking of Water, Energy, and Carbon Flows in Academic Buildings: A Fuzzy Clustering Approach,”, May 29, 2020.