Smiling man stands beside solar panel, in office.

Michael Versteege - Leading the charge for renewables on campus

Michael Versteege is manager of the University of Alberta’s Energy Management Program. It’s his job to reduce the university’s energy consumption. For half a decade, he has worked within Facilities & Operations to ensure that campus buildings are performing efficiently. Now he is ambitiously expanding into renewable and alternative energy generation. Get to know more about his job, and what drives him to be sustainable.

Tell us about your job as Energy Management Program Manager.

I am involved with driving sustainable elements within facilities across campus. Energy Management and Sustainable Operations (one of the three arms of the Office of Sustainability) is there from conception to design and development, adding our input on what should be done. In a lot of cases we help fund capital and major renovation projects as well. On new constructions, we might fund incremental changes beyond normal building practices, usually through energy savings. I’m also helping build an inventory of the university’s carbon footprint, putting together plans and setting goals for further reduction.

What’s one of your big accomplishments on campus?

I would say my biggest accomplishment is the focus we’ve brought to renewable energy. Before we were so focused on “low hanging fruit,” those projects that gave the highest and fastest rate of return on our investment, but now we’re getting a little more creative and starting to incorporate renewables. We are all starting to realize that there are additional benefits to renewables beyond simply saving money, spinoff benefits tied into education, raising awareness and developing new technologies.

What’s the most exciting renewable project coming up?

In terms of coolness factor, I think it’s the Physical Activity and Wellness Centre. There will be a solar-thermal heating system, solar panels acting as shading elements, and we’re incorporating high-efficiency, triple-pane  glazing on the windows. So there are a number of components all coming together on one project. Solar thermal is expensive but it can work if put in the right facility. The PAW Center is a good one because we can pre-heat the showers, and unlike a residential tower, there’s huge demand for showers during the day time. Also, the swimming pools will benefit from the heat generated by this solar thermal system.

How are you engaging staff and students in energy reduction?

There are a number of projects where we’re using students and staff to help educate and engage. A great example is the laboratory fume hood / sash campaign. As a pilot project, we added additional controls into one lab, controls that will actually reduce significant amounts of energy. But we’re also helping educate professors and students in those labs to shut the sash on their fume hoods, to further reduce energy. We can see their actions correlated to the actual energy reduction and we can share with them to show the impact they’ve had.

What about your job makes you happy?

I like the creative freedom, and having the support of students and everybody in Facilities & Operations. I like seeing the results of my activity. Everything we do here has a direct impact that I can see and measure. If I can see those utility bills or CO2 emissions dropping as a result of a project we did, that’s very rewarding.

What sort of room for innovation do you enjoy?

Well, we’re in an environment where we’re not afraid to experiment, to try something new or pilot new technologies. Take the Camrose Performing Arts Centre as a prime example: we put solar panels on all four sides of the tower. Typically, this is not something that you would do. In normal industry, you would only put up the south-facing panel because it gets the most sunlight; it’s a sure bet. But we were looking at the tower, thinking that we have to clad it anyway, so why not use solar panels?

A unique thing about having solar panels on a vertical tower is that we’ll never have to clear the snow cover. So what happens in the wintertime with all of the reflections off of the snow? We’re going to monitor that to see how much light we’re picking up, how much power we can generate. So it’s those types of research opportunities that we’re looking to learn from.

Why did you get into a career in sustainability?

Sustainability has always been something I do at home, though not something I focused on in my studies. I practice what I preach: shutting off lights and conserving energy, reducing the temperature in the house to the point where people get upset at me. These are things I’ve just always done, so this career is a good fit for me now.

Why is this job so important to you, personally?

We’re having a huge impact in terms of energy reductions and the university’s overall carbon footprint. I take some pride in thinking that I’ve helped the university down this path, and that we’re now considered one of the leaders in Canada in terms of overall energy reductions. This isn’t something that I started, but it’s good to carry the torch forward. I do hope that one day there won’t be a need for an energy management team—that, due to the change we instill, future buildings, just by default, will be extremely energy efficient. So that’s the ultimate goal: to put myself out of business.

How can people get involved to help build a more sustainable campus?

I would say, just that: get involved! There are many avenues, from working with the campus’ sustainability coordinators to getting involved in campus groups out there wanting to do things. Sharing that drive, knowledge, and passion across campus would definitely help.

To keep up to speed with energy saving and renewable energy initiatives at the University of Alberta, follow our progress at and visit the Energy Management and Sustainable Operations Projects webpage.

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