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BC Hydro cuts power house lighting costs by 75 per cent

Image of the interior of Bridge River powerhouse, before and after lighting upgrades
Photos show the power house interior at Bridge River Generating Station before and after a lighting upgrade.

Most industrial facilities in B.C. could save big on lighting upgrades

With more than 30 generating facilities and 300 substations, BC Hydro is a major industrial entity in the province. And like other industrial companies, keeping up with energy efficiency opportunities in all of those sites is a challenge.

Enter the Lead By Example program, developed so that BC Hydro could apply Power Smart programs to its own operations.

"We do energy studies and try and identify where we can save in heating, lighting or other ways," says Peter Wagner, senior engineer with the program.

Since it's estimated that 70-80 per cent of industrial facilities in B.C. could benefit from a lighting upgrade, it's little surprise the Lead By Example group gained some impressive benefits from a recent lighting upgrade at two generating stations.

New lamps and controls add up to 75 per cent savings

At Bridge River Generating Stations 1 and 2, high bay lighting in the power house was upgraded with new lighting controls and "extra long life" T5 high output fluorescent lighting. This resulted in an impressive 75 per cent reduction in high bay lighting energy use, and better lighting quality.

"Sometimes the light output of a lamp is very low, yet people look at it and they say, 'Well, if it's not burnt out, it's working.' But really, it's not. I'm not a lighting expert, but they tell me [an aging lamp] essentially consumes all the electricity it did before, but it's producing less lumens."

Because new fluorescent lighting switches on more quickly than old style high bay lighting, the upgrade also allowed the plant to start shutting down lights when areas are unoccupied.

"Cutting the lighting back to just work hours cut energy significantly," says Wagner. "You save about 60 per cent or so right there." He says combined with the shift to efficient lamps, the upgrade yielded approximately a 75 per cent savings on energy for lighting at the plant.

"We'd look at those numbers and go, 'Is that right?' It was all because of the simple thing of organizing the lighting controls to be able to turn everything off when the last person signs out and turns on the security system."

Image of Burrard Thermal generating plant, before and after lighting upgrades
Photos show the Burrard Thermal generating station before and after 1,000 metal halide and high pressure sodium lamps were replaced with T5 high output fluorescent lighting.

Easier maintenance, improved safety

At Burrard Thermal station, 1,000 metal halide and high pressure sodium lamps were replaced with T5 high output fluorescent lighting. The upgrade allowed BC Hydro to improve efficiency and tackle a long-standing challenge: a light bulb replacement process that was anything but simple.

"It was an unusual situation where the lights were put higher than the underside of the joists," says Wagner. To reach and replace high bay lights, workers had to climb onto a ladder cantilevered on top of the ceiling crane, a precarious and time-consuming process. Applying BC Hydro's Safety By Design principles [PDF], Wagner says, the system was redesigned to simplify maintenance and reduce hazards, which means lighting maintenance is now a much less expensive task.

He says Burrard Thermal was an extreme example, but other companies can also use a lighting retrofit as an opportunity to rethink employee safety and maintenance processes.

"A lot of lights have been placed over stairwells, or other places that are hard to get at," he says. "Then we find people don't go in and change the lights that are burnt out very often because it is so difficult." Not only can a situation be less safe due to a burned out lamp; it stays unsafe for longer because lamp replacement is such a challenge.

Brighter light benefits workers

Wagner says electricity savings and safety improvements are great benefits of lighting upgrades — but one of the most tangible effects of improved lighting is how it makes people feel.

"Instead of being dingy, yellow, and dark, it's brighter," he says. We've received nothing but positive response. Everybody likes the "whiter," better quality of light."

Wagner says saving energy at BC Hydro takes the same effort it does everywhere else — better technology, coupled with employee engagement.

"Keeping the lights on 24/7 at Bridge River was partly habit, and part necessity," he says, noting that previously, few light switches were in convenient locations, and workers didn't want to have to wait for lights to warm up every morning.

"So they want it that way because it's always been that way, and they feel they need it. Then, when you talk with them and address their concerns, attitudes change. Now they're saying, 'Yeah, we can turn them off.'"