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Building operators sold on innovative BC Hydro program

Simon Fraser University has worked with Power Smart's Continuous Optimization Program on two buildings so far, including the South Science Building at the university's Burnaby campus.

Posted by Rob Klovance

It started as a 12-building pilot program that apparently flew under no one's radar. Discovered quickly after it was launched 18 months ago, it's now at 113 buildings and counting, and is expected to deliver 25 gigawatt-hours in energy savings.

So successful is BC Hydro Power Smart's Continuous Optimization Program that it was recently singled out in the Canadian Electricity Association's Sustainability Electricity Program annual report. The report outlines the sustainable development performance of the electricity industry in 2008.

"We are proud to be involved with the CEA's program, but are also proud of our leadership over the last decade in focussing on the triple-bottom line approach to reporting the impacts of our business," says BC Hydro's senior sustainability coordinator Colleen Leitch.

Power Smart's Continuous Optimization Program is an example of BC Hydro's commitment to sustainability. And while kudos from the CEA are welcome, it's the response of B.C. building operators that has bowled over BC Hydro commercial marketing senior manager Graham Henderson.

"The project seems to have gone to a next level, where it's being recommended customer to customer and among trade allies," says Henderson. "The stuff that we're providing really seems to be hitting the spot in terms of what these customers are looking for."

It's no mystery why the program, which now includes every B.C. health authority and five universities among its 37 customers, is a hit. It offers incentives that allow building operators to more quickly and accurately assess, and fix, energy inefficiencies.

"The program enables us to look at the operations end in fine detail," says Simon Fraser University Facilities Services energy manager Ron Sue, who has two campus buildings in the program and two more on the way. "We never really had time to look at this in the past."

The first part of the two-pronged program, building recommissioning, is not an unusual offering for North American utilities. Henderson likens it to a tune-up for a car, in which some low-hanging fruit – process issues such as manually-initiated HVAC systems being left on to run all night – are identified.

It's the second part of the program, the Energy Management Information Systems (EMIS) initiative, that's the big, juicy carrot so many building operators are finding irresistible. BC Hydro pays for 100% of the continuous optimization component, which includes electric meter upgrades and a software license that puts into effect comprehensive analysis and reporting.

What does that mean? Operators go from trying to improve energy efficiencies with little more data than a once-a-month bill, to getting data from upgraded meters every 15 minutes, and software to apply that data into a variety of reports accessible online.

"In tough economic times it can be very difficult to get a company to invest in something like a meter upgrade, which doesn't save anything," says Henderson, adding quickly: "But you can't manage what you can't measure."

The program also includes 100% funding for a consultant in the recommissioning study, training funding and some follow-up coaching to ensure that the optimization is truly continuous.

Power Smart's commercial customers step up with a commitment of anywhere from 20 to 35 cents per square foot in recommissioning improvements. The EMIS incentives turn what might be considered a daunting investment into a slam dunk for many operators.

"It's feeling right now, with the appetite we're seeing for this program, and with our funding of Energy Managers, that we could be looking at market transformation happening in a fairly short time," says Henderson. "Five to 10 years down the road, energy managers may be doing this automatically."

SFU energy manager Sue agrees. He's been an energy manager with both the BC Buildings Corporation and now with SFU, and his job – including securing energy-efficiency funding – just got a bit easier through the Continuous Optimization program.

"It's still not an easy sell in times like these," said Sue, "But when [inefficiencies] are identified by a consultant under this program, it helps us to get funding from the university, because the payback period is much more attractive."

Rob Klovance is managing editor of bchydro.com.