Lighting up Communities, Xalostoc and the Electri Student Passport Initiative

Living without access to clean water, reliable electricity, or public streetlights seems almost impossible to most students at the University of Toronto. However, many developing nations and communities are still struggling with this basic infrastructure. Xalostoc in the Ecatepec municipality of the State of Mexico is such a community. After exponential growth in the 1990s, it has been lacking reliable electricity and safe housing. Xalostoc is in an area known for informal settlements, where inhabitants live in extreme poverty without access to basic city services.

A major issue in this community is violence. Residents of Xalostoc have identified public street lighting as the most effective way to improve security and trust. However, the community does not have access to formal electrical service nor the means to pay the usage fees demanded by the local electric utility. An alternative to traditional street lighting is an off-grid solar powered system.

The University of Toronto CECA/NECA Student Chapter is excited to announce that Xalostoc was able get such a street lighting system and that we were able to help. An array of 11 off-grid LED street lights with integrated solar panels and batteries were installed on December 15th as shown in Figure 1. This project has been supported by the Mexico City Chapter of TECHO, funding from Electri International and the University of Toronto Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering, and the experience of Toronto based electrical contractors. The U of T CECA Student Chapter got involved in this project as part of the Student Passport Initiative hosted by Electri International.

bp1Figure 1: Installation Site Plan

Student Passport Initiative

The Student Passport Initiative, recently rebranded as The Student Community Service Initiative, is a student design competition that provides funding for students to help an underprivileged community upgrade an existing electrical system or install a new one. The U of T CECA Student Chapter first got involved with the Student Passport Initiative in 2015, when we partnered with Penn State University to submit a proposal for the 2015 competition. After winning the competition, the joint team traveled to Roatán, Honduras to install a 4 kW solar array to power a water pump in a community that struggles with expensive, unreliable and polluting electricity generated from imported diesel.

Xalostoc Project History

This project started as an idea between a few members of U of T’s CECA Student Chapter and through discussion with the Mexico City Chapter of TECHO. TECHO representatives provided a list of multiple communities and documentation of identified needs for each that had been developed by the community with TECHO’s help. A common concern for many of the communities was safety. It was identified that safety could be greatly improved through street lighting, though most of the communities lacked access to reliable electricity and other government services typically required for such a project. This seemed like a great need that could not be addressed through typical channels but could be addressed by solar power street lighting.

This project formally began in April 2017, when the U of T CECA Student Chapter submitted a proposal for public street lighting for the community of Toltenco to Electri International as part of the Student Passport Initiative. The team’s original proposal was for the project to occur in the community of Toltenco, as opposed to Xalostoc (the community where the project ended up taking place), due to issues that will be discussed later in this post. After submitting our proposal, U of T was short-listed, along with Penn State University, to present to the Electri Council in Boston. Ernesto Díaz Lozano Patiño and Professor Brenda McCabe represented our team in Boston in July 2017. Their presentation won the Student Passport Initiative and Electri International provided $20,000 to support its implementation.

bp2Figure 2: Student Passport Presentation

Earthquakes and Other Delays

Two major earthquakes affected southern and central Mexico in September 2017. Due to this, all construction projects in the Xochimilco borough were brought to a halt. Further, changes in the local borough authorities complicated the process of obtaining the permits necessary to complete the project, resulting in delays that forced the team to investigate an alternative community for the project. Such difficulties highlight some of the many challenges faced by such underprivileged communities. Fortunately, TECHO was able to assist the team in identifying similar needs in the community of Xalostoc, where our team was able to install the street lights.  

Recent Progress

Due to a variety of factors, including favouring community engagement, cost, and that most of the original project team had graduated, it was determined that it made the most sense for the community and local contractors to install the street lighting. The U of T team would assist by having one team member inspect the site before installation and only a portion of the U of T team visit to obtain feedback from the community and commission the project. In November, the community, contractors, and TECHO completed the necessary excavation for the footing and installed the concrete base of the street lighting with the help of a crane. Some pictures from the installation are shown in Figure 3.

bp3Figure 3: Installation of the Foundation

On December 15th, the community, contractors, and TECHO completed the installation of the street lighting by assembling and mounting the street lights. Pictures of this installation are shown in Figure 4 and the street lights in action in Figure 5. Additional information on the construction can be found in this  Blog Post provided by TECHO.

bp4Figure 4: Assembling and Mounting the Streetlights

bp5Figure 5: The Streetlights in Action

Next Steps

Now, a small team of U of T Students (mainly alumni) will go to Xalostoc for project commissioning from January 11th through to January 14th. While there, this meeting will also include:

  • Discussions with community members
  • Discussions about potential future projects with TECHO

Keep an eye out for our next blog post after this trip, where we will share what we have learned on the project and provide any useful advice we may have for future students.


CECA U of T Volunteering at CRWC’s Children’s Programs

Community outreach is both a crucial part of the Green Energy Challenge and one of our team’s core values. We are enthusiastic about sharing our passion for sustainable buildings with CRWC so that they can understand how our work ties into their mission of serving the public.

During the past two weeks, CRWC welcomed us to volunteer in their children’s programs, where our Community Engagement team hosted several workshops on different sustainability concepts and joined in some active games! We were excited to be working with young minds, from ages 6 to 12, and get them engaged in becoming stewards of our environment.

Children’s Literacy Program

In this program, we hosted two workshops. The first involved colouring activities that challenged the children to identify electrical appliances and renewable energy sources. From this workshop, the children became more aware of the little actions they can take (such as turning off and unplugging household electrical appliances) to save energy. Also, they became fascinated by where all of this energy even came from and why we should take care of these resources that our environment provides.

Our volunteering team eagerly prepared for the workshops before the children arrived.


The masterpieces the children created taught them about energy conservation initiatives around the house and the positive impacts of renewable energy sources.

Our second workshop was a disposal bin sorting activity. We had pictures of a garbage bin, a recycling bin, and an organic waste bin along with little cutouts of different disposal items. The challenge for the children was to drop each item into the correct bin. They worked together in teams to learn about how proper disposal can reduce landfill waste, which in turn benefits the health of our environment.

We set up this fun activity that taught the children about putting garbage where it belongs to reduce landfill waste.

We ended the day by giving each child a cool certificate, rewarding them for learning about sustainability, and had them write down one thing they learned from our workshops. It was a great time for the children to reflect on how they can apply these new insights to their daily lives to continuously help the environment. In the meantime, our volunteers also learned a lot, as shown in the pictures below.

We reflected on the challenges and rewards of working with children on our awards!

Overall, we were very satisfied with how smoothly the workshops ran and how much we got to connect with the children. We hope that our hard work has empowered these new Canadians to become more mindful of their actions and to do their part to take care of the environment.

Children’s Fitness Programs

After our first successful volunteering event, CRWC graciously hosted us the following week for their Children’s Fitness Program. Two of our volunteers joined the CRWC’s facilitators to play a friendly game of quidditch with the children. It was awesome to see some familiar faces from our previous time there! The children were quite energized and cheered on each round of this fun game!

Our volunteers and CRWC facilitators rested at the end of an energetic game of quidditch!

Finally, our team had an amazing time joining CRWC’s volunteer programs and getting to bond with the children. It definitely was a unique experience spreading awareness of sustainability to a younger generation! We would like to thank CRWC for helping us organize our outreach events and our team members for dedicating their time for a great cause!

Further Readings

We had a great time teaching children about taking the initiative from an early age to take care of our planet, especially with Earth Day fast approaching (Sunday, April 22). With that in mind, we’d like to also share some links for those curious about how they can join in (if they haven’t already):

All about Earth Day:

Earth Day celebration events around Toronto:

Simple tips on how to help the environment everyday:

Also, for those who aren’t familiar with quidditch from Harry Potter, here’s what this game is all about:



Working on the 2018 Green Energy Challenge Proposal

With the Green Energy Challenge underway, our team has been hard at work, analyzing and modelling our auditing data to design retrofits for the Christie Refugee Welcome Centre (CRWC). We are all determined to achieve our overall goal of providing the CRWC with cost-effective retrofits for net zero energy consumption, while ensuring that our client understands the importance of sustainable initiatives.


Our lighting team is working on designs that improve lighting quality for occupants while reducing energy consumption. Some of their proposed ideas include replacing the current lighting fixtures with LED ones and installing light shelves to make use of natural lighting in rooms.

Building Energy Performance

This team analyzed the three main aspects of building performance: HVAC, building envelope, and occupant comfort. Using the Department of Energy modelling tools, the team simulated our client’s facility and obtained building scores in different categories, such as lighting, water heating, and HVAC, to see where they can improve to save energy. 

They are looking to replace certain components of the mechanical systems so that the buildings can be heated and cooled more efficiently. Furthermore, they assessed the building envelope using thermal imaging (some shown below) to identify areas with high thermal losses.

Finally, they interviewed building occupants and learned that the indoor air quality needs improvement, especially in the winter when residents leave windows opened up for ventilation. Several recommendations were made to address this problem, which included cleaning HVAC components to reduce air pollutants inside the building.  


Our solar team is focused on providing a photovoltaic system that will use solar energy to meet some of CRWC’s annual energy demands. They have considered client needs, innovative solar technologies, and best practices to create their designs.

For example, one of the components of their design is installing solar PV panels on the roofs of the three buildings at CRWC (one of them shown below).  

CECA blog pic 4.JPG

They used an Autodesk Revit model of CRWC to analyze which parts of the roofs get sunlight throughout the year to determine which solar panels would be useful and how much electricity each can produce. CECA blog pic 5

Using solar energy for buildings is a crucial part of making use of renewable energy sources with less harmful impacts on the environment. Now, our team is focused on doing an economic analysis of their solar designs and ensuring that it can be relied on to meet the changing energy demands of CRWC.


A significant challenge to our engineering designs is making them economically feasible. After all, if our designs that have potential to save energy cannot be realistically implemented by CRWC, then we really would not be helping anyone out with them. With this in mind, our finance team has been looking into government and non-government incentives for sustainable buildings, solar systems, and carbon pricing. These incentives would help to cover the costs of several energy retrofits.

Community Engagement

Our Community Engagement team is excited to be volunteering at CRWC’s children’s programs (including literacy and fitness). We are dedicated to teaching younger generations about the importance of sustainability through interactive activities and get them to become stewards of the environment.

Continue to follow our blogs as well as our CECA U of T Facebook and Instagram pages to learn more about our project and sustainable buildings design.

Further Readings

For those of you curious about the softwares we are using for our project or about how sustainable designs are being used in industry, check out the links below:

Autodesk Revit:

Department of Energy Building Energy Modelling:

Innovative Uses of Solar Technology:

Creative solar lighting



2018 CECA Energy Audit at the Christie Refugee Welcome Centre

As you’ve read in our first blog, we’re excited to kickstart the 2018 Green Energy Challenge Competition! This year, we are partnering with the Christie Refugee Welcome Centre (CRWC) to design a net-zero energy retrofit for their facilities.

Welcome to the Christie Refugee Welcome Centre (CRWC)

CRWC is an emergency shelter that warmly welcomes about 300 refugees from around the world each year who have had to flee their war-torn countries. They work with the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship to sponsor refugees and provides initial settlement services to allow individuals and families to build their new lives in Canada.   

CRWC is driven by their mission to pursue justice, to act with compassion and integrity, and to offer hope and dignity so that the people can thrive. They are determined to continue creating an engaging community that gives each person a sense of belonging, respects cultural diversity, and celebrates people’s journeys. They partner with various organizations to improve their services to meet the evolving individual needs of different refugee populations.

For this competition, it is essential for our CECA team to connect with CRWC’s mission. Our proposal will be on different upgrades and energy saving initiatives for CRWC to achieve net-zero energy consumption. In addition, our team will volunteer in various programs CRWC runs, especially to help children with their education and health. Our work will put a significant emphasis on serving our client and having a positive impact for the public by improving the living experience of new Canadians and spreading awareness of sustainable initiatives.

Energized for the Big Day

CRWC kindly welcomed us for our energy audit, where our team inspected and analyzed the flow of energy throughout the centre’s three interconnected buildings. We split up into smaller groups and took a tour of the different parts of the buildings to gather information on lighting, solar energy, building envelope, plug loads, and HVAC systems.


Lighting: Can I get a watt watt!

The lighting team visited 20 rooms and gathered key data to be used for design. Some of the main information collected were the different lighting types, wattage, switches, mounting types, and the lighting layouts. Also, lux readings were taken using a cell phone app to determine lighting luminance at varying distances from working light sources and with just natural lighting. This indicated how intense lighting in a room was and where possible improvements could be made.  

Solar: Warming up to the idea!

One of our teammates went on top of the roof and studied the quality and types of roofing materials in use. Potential access for hoisting equipments (such as racking systems), different shadings on the roof, and using fixed versus movable solar panels were the key focus of the solar team’s observations.  


Building Energy: I’m a big fan!

Our Building Energy team observed the different types of windows and doors in each room. Using Infrared Thermometer, heat escape or leakages were identified on doors and windows to determine potential measures to incorporate into our designs to minimize this. Additionally, the model number and energy consumption of the air conditioners in each room were noted, which would help us to come up with innovative ways to cool the buildings. To gather plug loads data, the team recorded how long any devices or equipment using electricity were plugged in. Lastly, during the tour of the mechanical systems, thermal efficiency, standby losses, recovery rates, floor ventilation systems, and the functioning of the radiators were noted down.

Next Steps

After a day of hard work at the energy audit, our team organized the gathered data. Now, we have commenced our design process and are coordinating with CRWC to volunteer in their children’s programs. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram and check out our upcoming blogs for our CECA journey this year!

Green Energy Challenge 2018

What is this year’s competition?

The CECA UofT Student Chapter is excited to participate in the 2018 Green Energy Challenge, which is the 10th Annual ELECTRI International/NECA Student Chapter Competition. The purpose of the competition is for students to interact with their community and NECA member companies, while learning about sustainable building design. Our team is tasked with choosing an existing facility in our neighbourhood that provides community services, and propose an energy upgrade for the building so they can achieve Net-Zero Energy (NZE) consumption.

What is Net-Zero Energy?

A NZE building is a building that generates as much or more energy as it uses and aims to minimize energy consumption. With a building that aims to be NZE, it is not completely off the grid. The building will still be connected to the electric grid as it consumes energy however it will be designed to produce its own energy through renewable energy sources (eg. solar energy). This leads to a net-zero energy consumption. Its connection to the grid also allows the use of traditional energy sources such as gas and electricity since they are resilient in the event that renewable resources fail to provide enough power. However, if the amount of renewable energy exceeds the amount of energy required by the building, this extra energy can be fed back to the utility grid.

To achieve NZE, the concept can be implemented during the design phase of a building to utilize all the features that can prevent energy consumption and produce renewable energy. However, NZE can also be achieved after a building is built. This is very important, since many old buildings are energy intensive but are not ready to be replaced entirely. Retrofitting a building to achieve NZE is a long process that may take multiple years and has to be maintained throughout the lifetime of the building. It is important for a building trying to accomplish NZE to set frequent goals related to reducing energy consumption. We have two tasks to in order to help our client become NZE. First, we will design improvements to decrease energy consumption in the building, from efficient lighting and appliances to better insulation that reduces heating demand in the winter. Second, we will design a solar energy system that will generate enough energy to offset the consumption by the building through the year.s

Why is Net-Zero Energy important?

A NZE building reduces greenhouse gases by using the energy it produces from renewable energy sources, so there is no need for the use of fossil fuels. The property value of a building increases if it is seen to have NZE consumption because it saves money over its entire life cycle in energy and maintenance costs. The concept of NZE has become popular and it is moving much of the building sector industry forward.

Further Readings:

To follow us on our journey, check out our social media pages:


Instagram: @cecauoft


Gemini House Tour and Volunteering at Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre (WNC)

Hello readers!

CECA is working hard at analyzing data from the energy audit. In the meantime, we have also dedicated a large amount of time to spread awareness on the importance of sustainable buildings.


We, at CECA UofT, wanted to spread awareness of innovation in sustainable building design by considering projects completed on campus! One such amazing project is Gemini House ! This complex project included the retrofit of a 1880s masonry home and explored numerous methods of low-energy housing. The main approach, deemed GEMINI NTED™, was to thermally isolate the building into two zones and controlling the heating/cooling requirements separately within the zones. This project was an initiative of Ryerson University along with University of Toronto (led by Professor Kim Pressnail).

What better way to educate interested students about innovation in sustainable building design than arranging for the lead professor who worked on the project to give a tour?With this plan in mind, CECA worked with the professor to finalize the event and even on a rainy day, we had about 20 student attendees eager and excited to learn about this project. Thank you to all those who attended!

Glimpses of the Gemini House Tour event led by Professor Kim Pressnail


As evident from the energy audit, we are very excited to be working with WNC for the Green Energy Challenge. During our visit, we learned a lot about the services they provide for the community and we wanted to be active in giving back and volunteering our time to engage with the community members.

With this in mind, we corresponded with community development leaders at WNC to host an interactive workshop on the importance of energy conservation! Our audience? Children aged 6-12 years in WNC’s “After 4” after-school program because we believe that the earlier we educate people about energy and environmental conservation, the better!

CECA members leading a workshop with children in WNC’s After-4 after school program
CECA leaders planned 3 rotations of workshops for the participants:

First (pictured on top and bottom left), the children made use of flowcharts and images to demonstrate an overall understanding of climate change. They also engaged in a story-telling format about the “life of carbon” to learn about where carbon emissions come from and where they end up.

Second (pictured bottom right), was an interactive demonstration of lighting efficiency. We brought 3 lamps: incandescent, fluorescent and LED along with an infrared thermometer. We asked the kids to predict the most efficient lighting system and used the thermometer to record temperatures of the bulbs when they were on. This was a lot of fun for the children as they had to think critically to understand the correlation between heat loss and lighting. Rest assured, “LED” was a new concept and we were glad they were able to see its efficiency comparative to incandescent and florescent lights!

Designing and crafting for the “Green House Challenge”!
Lastly, after getting an overall background on climate change and about lighting, we challenged the children to design their own “Green House” (pictured above). We showed them examples of elements that can make homes better including incorporating: LED lights, solar panels, composting, wind turbine, green roofs and more! As pictured above, the children (and also some of our CECA members) had a fun time using colours and being creative to make their own dream “Green House”.


The After 4 Program was not the end of CECA’s efforts to educating the community. In addition to our last visit, CECA members visited WNC for a third time on April 21st for an Earth Day event workshop in collaboration with WNC’s Senior’s Community & Development team. WNC representatives made us aware of the fact that there was a large population in their seniors community that were paying hefty energy and hydro bills. This was due to lack of information available to them and due to their lack of knowledge about ways to cut back and save energy as well as the costs. In an effort to close this gap, CECA members led a presentation, showing the attendees about how to read the bills and simple steps they can take to cut back on costs and conserve energy simultaneously.

CECA members, Greg Peniuk and Mackenzie De Carle, in conversation with WNC’s senior community about energy consumption and ways to lower energy bills.



Overall, we, at CECA, have really enjoyed getting to spread our knowledge on sustainable buildings and energy conservation with community. From student awareness through the Gemini House tour to getting engaged with the community at WNC, educating the public on the importance of sustainability and innovative steps taken in that direction has been a valuable experience for us. Giving back to the community by sharing our passion for sustainability has been a highlight and we want to thank all those who have helped guide us towards this direction!

Energy Audit 2017: Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre!

We, at CECA UofT Chapter, have been making some strides with this year’s Green Energy Challenge Competition 2017 so we wanted to update you. This year, we have chosen to work with the Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre (WNC) and they graciously hosted our team to collect data on their site for the energy audit.

What’s an “Energy Audit”?

An Energy Audit is an important information tool to understand how energy is being used to operate a building. For the purposes of our audit this year, we took a tour of the WNC building and and gathered data on energy use due to: lighting (luminescence measure), plug loads (use of electrical appliances), and HVAC systems (heating and cooling systems). Other observations included looking at building envelopes and checking for places in need of improvements/retrofits within existing building structure (eg adding solar panels or natural lighting).

Scroll below for some pictures of our shenanigans as we took a tour of WNC for the energy audit last week!


First off, the team met some representatives at WNC who gave us a general tour of the centre. We got to check out various rooms hosting workshops for community members, the gym and the roof!


After the tour, the team divided into groups to get information on lighting and the mechanical system (HVAC).


Several key measures were taken into consideration for lighting. This included noting the type of lights, measuring distances from lighting system relative to the room and also checking the luminescence quality with lights on and off using a smartphone app. In addition, the lighting team observed plug loads by considering different electronic devices that were being used in rooms.



The solar/HVAC team got access to the building’s mechanical room to understand and gather information on the types of air conditioners and boilers being used to provide heating and cooling. Moreover, a big part of the challenge is considering solar and other renewable sources! For this reason, the roof was also visited to assess if panels could be an option for WNC.


As you can make out, the team did a lot of work by recording and taking meticulous measurements for the audit. However, we also had some fun!


Pictured is one of our members geared with: an infrared thermometer, an infrared camera and an ONSET temperature/RH data logger. It’s great at sensing and logging data on heat but also great for selfies!

That is the end of our audit update! Be sure to follow this blog for more updates on how the data collected is going to be used to suggest recommendations for WNC as we progress with “Green Energy Challenge 2017”.