Stories & Features

Continuous improvement saves UNBC $250,000 a year

Image of the UNBC campus
The University of Northern British Columbia sits on Cranbrook Hill above Prince George and has made sustainability and energy efficiency a priority since it first opened in 1994.

Institution saves by identifying operational efficiencies in nine buildings

Amanda Drew knows her way around a mechanical room. As the University of Northern British Columbia's energy technician she has facilitated dozens of energy audits, setting in motion a series of improvement projects that have since saved the institution hundreds of thousands of dollars.

UNBC first enrolled in BC Hydro's Continuous Optimization Program in 2012. The program offers eligible commercial customers financial incentives, tools and support to get their buildings operating efficiently. "The Continuous Optimization Program is a pillar of our strategic energy management plan," says Drew, who for a few years now has worked alongside David Claus, assistant director of facilities management at UNBC. Shortly after enrolling in the program, Drew and Claus began working with Prism Engineering. With the firm's help, they examined nine UNBC buildings and came away with a list of ways to reduce the operating costs at each, many of which included inexpensive operational changes, such as making better use of HVAC and lighting controls.

Drew says that the experience gave her and Claus the insight they needed to develop their three-phase action plan, which prioritized improvement projects at the nine UNBC buildings over a three-year period. Each project had close to a two-year payback, or return on investment.

Labs and buildings with the worst efficiency tackled first

"Labs on university campuses are notoriously energy intensive, and our research and teaching Labs were no exception," explains Drew. "Our work with Prism Engineering revealed that it would be a smart move to start with improvements at these two sites and our Agora building, which houses the student dining hall."

In March 2015, Drew and Claus wrapped-up the first phase of the action plan, instituting a variety of strategies for operational efficiencies, including:

  • Night time setbacks;
  • Weekend and holiday schedules
  • Air exchange rate reductions
  • Damper controls
  • Hot water pumping.

UNBC is saving $90,000 annually as a result of the work completed in 2015. The following year, in March 2016, the duo finished phase two, which included a series of similar operational improvements at the Charles J. McCaffray Hall, the medical building and the Northern Sport Centre. Significant energy reductions are also expected over the course of 2016/2017. The last batch of improvements at the library, conference centre, and teaching and learning building, are scheduled to begin in spring of 2017.

Wrapping up their list of optimization projects is hardly the end of the line for Drew and Claus, who estimate that the Continuous Optimization Program will save UNBC more than $250,000 in utility costs in 2017. The pair recently updated UNBC's Energy Policy, outlining new, more aggressive energy reduction targets through 2020.

"We've committed to reducing our electrical and thermal energy consumption by 25% by 2020, and our fossil fuel consumption for heating by 85% by 2020," says Drew.

That's an indication that continuous optimization has become something more than just a program for UNBC – it's now a way of working.