Student Project

Implementing the BC Energy Step Code

As a Sustainability Scholar, Madhur Motwani advised a local municipality on ways to successfully implement the BC Energy Step Code for commercial buildings.

UBC MEL AMM Student Project BC Energy Step Code for Commercial Buildings

UBC’s Sustainability Scholars Program is a paid internship opportunity that matches graduate students with municipalities and other partners to advance sustainability projects across the Lower Mainland. Madhur Motwani, a student in the Master of Engineering Leadership (MEL) program in Advanced Materials Manufacturing, was selected to participate in the program and work with the Township of Langley over the summer of 2020 to evaluate strategies for implementing the BC Energy Step Code for non-residential buildings.

As Madhur explains, the BC Energy Step Code is a voluntary compliance framework that applies to new buildings in the province through a series of performance-based energy-efficiency metrics or “steps.”

Over the next few years, the Step Code will be integrated into the BC Building Code and become mandatory; however, before that happens, municipalities can voluntarily adopt the BC Energy Step Code to give developers, architects and others the opportunity to learn what’s required to build to a higher energy-efficiency standard.

The Township of Langley hired Madhur to learn about the operational experience of other jurisdictions in implementing the Step Code for commercial, institutional and industrial buildings, and to gain insight into the challenges the Step Code places on builders and developers.

Madhur began by conducting in-depth research on eight municipalities that already have Step Code requirements in place for non-residential buildings to explore their incentive programs, policy levers and strategies for implementing the Step Code guidelines. He also developed and distributed a survey to 30 stakeholders in the building industry to assess their knowledge of and engagement with the Step Code.

“There is a definite trend of municipalities adopting the Step Code for non-residential buildings, and many are far along on their implementation journey,” he says. “It really depends on the mix of residential and commercial buildings and how the municipalities are prioritizing implementation.”

To understand the impact of the Step Code on developers, builders, architects and designers, Madhur created a survey to ask about their experience working within the code’s requirements, the challenges they faced, and how they dealt with technical issues related to areas such as high-performance wall assemblies and energy-efficient mechanical and electrical systems.

“The pain points identified by industry include design issues, higher costs, greater time requirements to meet compliance cost impacts, and inconsistency in energy modelling results,” he says.

These challenges highlight the need for municipalities to create ongoing opportunities for dialogue with the building industry. Jurisdictions that have held “builder breakfasts,” working groups and training sessions have found these to be useful strategies for sharing information and learning about industry concerns.

As Madhur says, “Because the Energy Step Code is a voluntary compliance framework, its success in being adopted depends on government engagement with stakeholders to show how everyone benefits.”

The recommendations he developed in his final report reflect the fact that the implementation of the BC Energy Step Code is still in its infancy and that many best practices have yet to be developed. However, Madhur argues that early and ongoing engagement with industry is essential in developing policy frameworks, soliciting and incorporating feedback, and then implementing successful policy.

“Industry will need to adjust practices to achieve the Step Code’s energy-efficiency levels,” he says. “There’s lots of game left to play – the mandatory compliance deadline is not until 2032.”

Reflecting on his experience as a Sustainability Scholar, Madhur says it was a great platform to expand his skills and gain experience within the sustainability sector.

“My background is in mechanical engineering, with a focus on materials science, and I’ve worked predominantly in the oil and gas industry. My first degree is what ties me to the MEL in Advanced Materials Manufacturing, spurred by my desire to work in the sustainability sector. I believe that advanced materials will be needed in the building industry to help us reach energy-efficiency goals. The MEL’s integrated approach has allowed me to pull together my education, past experience and current interests to deepen my skills and pivot my career.”

Read about Madhur’s Sustainability Scholars project on the UBC Sustainability website, where you’ll also find a link to his final report and recommendations.

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