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Why one city block at UBC is turning into a $23M 'living laboratory'

Solar panels will cover a parking lot, there'll be a hydrogen cell refueling station and be used for research

Ground broke this week on a new $23 million renewable energy hub at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

The hub will have plenty, according to a press release from the university, as it will transform the corner of Wesbrook Mall and Thunderbird Boulevard into what's being called a world-leading smart energy district. It'll include a solar panel system, "intelligent charging infrastructure" for electric vehicles (which will pull power from the solar panels), a water electrolyzer to create hydrogen and a hydrogen vehicle refuelling station for light- and heavy-duty vehicles using fuel cells.

While the facility will be a working hub, it'll also provide a place to study the application of other sustainability projects. It will be used to look at ideas like smart energy storage and include reversible electric vehicle charging.

In total the project is expected to cost $23 million; the province is providing $5.6 million in credits related to the production of renewable fuel.

"The energy hub will become a city-scale, 'living laboratory' that explores critical links between energy, transportation and urban design," states UBC.

The project will be led by Dr. Walter Mérida.

"Ultimately, the test bed will link technology and people. It will provide a space to gather, engage and think deeply about the way we want to live,” says Mérida.