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Environmental Sustainability

Faces of Sustainability

Ross Lyle Chair and Instructor, Camosun Mechanical Engineering Department

“. . . students are interested in solar projects, water power, wind energy – all renewable energy. New sources of energy are absolutely necessary and I am happy to see students taking interest in them. The PV array helps keep students current and provides a first-hand experience and a real-world example.”

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Ross Lyle

“Sustainability and what it means to society is changing, so we must continue to adjust to meet the needs and interests”

Ross Lyle: Renewable Energy, Real World Experience

Sustainability requires a variety of skills and expertise to address its challenges. Thankfully Ross Lyle, Chair and instructor of Camosun’s Mechanical Engineering Department, enjoys using his advanced engineering skills to create solutions to unusual problems and has been doing so at Camosun College since 1985.

Thirty years ago, sustainability certainly wasn’t one of Camosun’s four strategic pillars. Ross admits sustainability hasn’t always been on his radar but recalls his first “ah-ha” moment related to reduction of personal waste more than 15 years ago while working at Camosun. “I was printing a long document, single-sided of course, when a colleague of mine casually mentioned he used the blank side of waste paper for his note paper so as not to waste it,” Ross recalls. That was all it took to get Ross thinking of all the small ways he could behave at home and work to save resources and limit his impact on the environment.

Since then, Ross has come to define sustainability more broadly. “Sustainability, to me, is about taking a new approach – approaching everything with the idea that you aren’t doing it in a way that uses more resources than necessary; so it can continue in perpetuity. We need to ensure our impacts are within bounds.”

On a day-to-day basis, Ross furthers sustainability by conserving resources, separating his waste and recycling and re-using as much as he can. He is proud to live in a one car household (it’s a Prius), something that depends on his willingness and ability to commute by bike.

Incorporating sustainability is sometimes just as simple as re-imagining the way things ought to be. The next step to re-imagining is innovation. An example of Ross’ innovative thinking is Camosun’s solar powered charging station, a project which he spearheaded.

“Our solar project is a great example of what can be done,” says Ross. With funding from the Student Society and 2013 Presidents Funds, the college installed a 4KW solar photovoltaic (PV) array at the Interurban campus to offset the charging of electric vehicles, bikes, scooters, grounds-keeping golf carts and battery powered hand tools. The energy provided by the array, as well as the energy consumed by the various charging stations, is fully monitored. Excess power is fed directly back into the electrical grid. Since its installation, the array has demonstrated that the sun’s energy can indeed provide more energy than is required by all the charging stations. If you would like to see the energy generated from the solar array take a look here.

The solar project was also a great example of collaboration at Camosun. It was installed by electrical apprenticeship students under the guidance of the solar array provider, Home Energy Solutions, and the array’s performance is monitored by electronics and mechanical engineering technology students. As the project continues, so does student learning, adding another valuable education tool to Camosun.

Ross believes that introducing students to renewable energy technologies is invaluable; “. . . students are interested in solar projects, water power, wind energy – all renewable energy. New sources of energy are absolutely necessary and I am happy to see students taking interest in them. The PV array helps keep students current and provides a first-hand experience and a real-world example.”

Ross clearly understands the importance of keeping things current in the curriculum and ensuring students are well prepared to enter today’s job market. A large part of this is ensuring students have access to co-op placements. “We are constantly tweaking the program,” says Ross as he scans the course outlines laid neatly across his desk, “. . . for instance right now we are working on moving from a quarter-based system to a semester-based system in part to better align with co-op opportunities.”

When I ask what sets Camosun’s Mechanical Engineering program apart from other similar programs offered at Canadian colleges, Ross highlights a comprehensive capstone project completed by teams of students. From conceptualization to completed projects “students do the whole nine yards.” These projects encompass principles and technologies that relate to sustainability, demonstrate student knowledge gleaned from co-op experiences, the curriculum, and incorporate lessons in project management. To see examples of past capstone projects take a look here.

“Sustainability and what it means to society is changing, so we must continue to adjust to meet the needs and interests,” says Ross. The department is also working on adding new courses that will cover a variety of sustainability principles. For example, in 2016 the department will continue to offer the Project Planning and Design capstone project. The course will complement the existing classes that focus on sustainability such as Thermodynamics (MENG 264) which addresses energy conversion, Building Systems (MENG 162) which covers efficient buildings, and Project Management and Social Responsibility (MENG 293) which introduces sustainable development as well as ethics in engineering.  Ross adds “We are particularly excited about our new Energy and Sustainability course (PHYS 272) taught by Physics”.

The constant curriculum “tweaks,” combined with smaller class sizes and Western Canada’s only engineering bridge program set Camosun’s Engineering programs apart from other Canadian institutions and continues to encourage students to incorporate new ways of addressing old problems.

Ross and his team are preparing students for careers that have the potential to make real change happen when they enter their fields. But, we can’t help but ask about sustainability and Camosun’s future. “With limitless resources what would you do to make Camosun a more sustainable place?” I ask. It doesn’t take Ross long to respond: “. . . I would retrofit buildings. I would make them all more efficient. I would use all the available energy efficient technology available for all of our new buildings.” He would like to see more heat pump technology used on our campuses and goes on to explain his growing interest in Passive House construction, a movement originating in Germany that result in low-energy buildings that require little energy for space heating and cooling. Ross adds that he would like to remind students and our leaders that “sustainability always needs to be part of the question. [They] need to ask themselves how sustainability fits into the project they are working on.”

Sustainability needs to be incorporated into discussions at all levels, and Ross recommends that those hoping to see change take personal responsibility.  “Make small changes at home and carry on with those changes throughout your day.” He says, quite simply “strive for minimal waste.”

Ross is happy to have witnessed changes in perception and behaviour since he started his work at Camosun 30 years ago. He emphasizes that sustainability has a solid business case and hopes that changes that today might seem drastic will one day be the norm. He offers the example of forests being logged and left – whereas today they are replanted, “. . . and we couldn’t imagine it any other way.”  Ross looks toward the future of sustainability at Camosun with optimism.

In his personal life, Ross compliments his cycling by playing badminton a few times a week. “I’m not sure how long that will be sustainable” he laughs. However, whether hitting birdies or not, Ross will continue to tweak his own behaviour to lead by example. “In my retirement I’d like to retrofit my Prius with a new battery which would increase my electric mode range.” Clearly, his sustainability work is only gaining momentum – thanks Ross!

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