Over the last ten years, UHN’s Bickle Centre has undergone a total transformation with renovations to the exterior and on the units, but did you know it has also undergone an energy transformation? Between 2010 and 2021, Bickle’s carbon footprint has been reduced by 55%, while also saving a cumulative $1.3M in utility costs. I’d love to tell you there was a magic bullet that made it happen, but it took many years of hard work, lots of major projects, and a focus on efficiency throughout. For reference, the IPCC SR1.5 report in 2018 suggested a 45% reduction from 2010 levels by 2030 would yield a higher than 50% chance of maintaining global warming below 1.5C. Bickle has already surpassed that target ten years early!

Here are a few posts I wrote about climate change if you are wondering why it is important for hospitals to take action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions:

Climate Change is a Health Care Issue

Benefits of Climate Action

The Social Cost of Carbon

How were these savings achieved at Bickle?

Although a portion of the GHG savings can be attributed to the Province of Ontario cleaning up it’s electricity grid by eliminating coal power, Bickle’s utility data shows that the site has also drastically reduced energy consumption over the years.

Building envelope

Bickle had been undergoing a long, complicated renewal process dating back to even before 2010. Crucially, the building envelope was reconstructed including upgrading windows, adding insulation, and correcting problems with original building. A proper building envelope is key to ensuring that the heating and cooling provided to the space isn’t lost to the exterior. An efficient central plant can only do so much if the energy supplied is being wasted.

Bickle Under Construction. Credit: Google Maps Street View

Steam Boiler Plant

The aged steam boilers, serving humidification and sterilization loads, were replaced back in 2013, with the Energy and Environment team leading the project and ensuring the boilers were properly sized, high efficiency, equipped with linkageless burner controls, and tied into the building automation system (BAS) enabling pressure setbacks.

LED Lighting

All exterior lighting was converted to LED in several phases, improving parking lot safety while cutting power consumption. Inside the building, Energy and Environment worked with Bickle facilities staff and the renovation project teams to install LED lighting and relamp with LED in non-renovation areas.

Chiller Plant

When it came time to replace the 40 year old chiller plant, the Energy team ensured the new system included the following efficiency features: magnetic bearing chillers for extremely high efficiency at all loading conditions, VFDs on pumps, VFDs on cooling tower fans, and connection to BAS for optimizing control sequences. These strategies reduced the power consumption of the chiller plant by a shocking 80% compared to the previous plant.

Cooling Tower at Bickle

Heating Boiler Plant

The original 1970s era heating plant was replaced in 2019. For various reasons (like-for-like requirements of funding source, technology availability, requirements for on site backup fuel storage, energy demand profile, etc), we weren’t able to eliminate fossil fuels at this time but we were able to add the following efficient features:

  • Near condensing boiler efficiency, raising efficiency from 80% to 84%
  • VFDs on primary and secondary pumping systems
  • Flanged pipe connection for future connection of non-fossil fuel energy source
  • Integration with BAS to enable efficient control and setbacks
Heating Pump VFD

Air Handling Systems

Similarly to the cooling and heating plants, the air handling units (AHUs) were beyond their useful life and were recently replaced. The Energy and Environment team worked closely with the capital team to support the following efficiency and emissions reducing features:

  • Enhanced heat recovery using heat pumps on 100% fresh air units. Decommissioned glycol run-around loops were re-configured with heat pumps to significantly reduce the demand from the central fossil fuel plant and add resilience to the site
  • Energy valves were added to the chilled water coils to further improve chiller plant performance. Here is an example of the impact these valves had at TGH
  • Conversion of constant volume systems to variable volume, where possible. Patient areas need conditioned air supplied 24/7, but administrative areas can be scheduled – VAV boxes were added to allow the systems to ramp down when these areas are unoccupied
  • Increased size of heating coils to allow for lower temperature heating water. Most non-fossil fuel sources of heat are lower temperature, so we worked with the consulting engineer to ensure the systems were sized with this in mind. The goal is to ensure the site is ready to take advantage of clean heat sources when the opportunity arises
  • VFDs on all fan motors. Even on constant speed systems, VFDs can have good savings when conducting air balancing because you can slow the speed of the motor to balance flow rather than throttling the fan at full power

Heat Pump and Energy Valve

Other Stuff

The above are the major projects that have had a large impact on the energy and GHG emissions at the site. However, a culture of sustainability is also about doing the little things to build momentum and buy-in to drive support for those big impact measures when the opportunities arise.

Some of the smaller measures taken at the site include the following:

  • Refrigeration upgrades to eliminate domestic water cooling, saving about two Olympic sized swimming pools worth of water per year
  • Identification and correction of a longstanding piping issue, improving building performance
  • Temperature reset on boiler water loop, enabling reduction from 187F to 170F to reduce gas consumption when conditions permit
  • Installation of white roofing material to reduce AHU intake temperatures in summer
  • Upgrade of gas-fired domestic water heaters from 80% to 97% efficiency units
  • Installation and operation of patient gardens, incorporated with rehabilitation treatment programs
  • Occupancy sensors for lights in lightly used spaces
  • Installation of high quality bicycle racks


As you can hopefully see, a deep reduction in fossil fuel combustion isn’t necessarily about simple one-off solutions. If a salesperson comes to you with a widget and claims they can achieve large savings with “optimization” or some other convenient approach, be suspicious. Achieving this level of emissions reduction at Bickle (55% of scope 2 emissions) required a long term strategy, a great team on site, consistent application of strong energy standards, willingness to experiment, coordination of energy measures with large renewal projects, energy suppliers working to reduce emissions intensity, and more. These strategies not only reduced emissions, but added resilience to the site and significantly reduced utility costs. UHN is expanding the use of these and other strategies throughout our campuses to do our part to ensure a safe climate for our patients, our children, and ourselves.