B.C.'s biggest electricity users step it up for conservation

Derek Sephton, maintenance manager for the Langley plant of IPEX Inc., a designer and manufacturer of integrated plastic piping systems, has worked with Power Smart to save 1.4 GWh of electricity per year.  

Nina Winham

Quick: what do the light bulbs in your living room have in common with the motors and equipment in B.C.'s largest industrial companies and production facilities?

The answer: they're both connected to the same grid. That's the electrical grid: the energy production and supply system that keeps street lights lit, houses warm, tea kettles boiling and factories operating all over the province.

That means you share something else with large industrial companies – an interest in making sure B.C.'s energy supplies are well managed for the long term, so that electricity rates remain competitive and supplies remain sufficient.

That's where BC Hydro's Power Smart program comes in, a "demand side management" effort that launched in 1989 and has grown significantly over recent years.

You've likely seen Power Smart's residential programs – offers to buy back your aging refrigerator, provide rebates if you buy energy efficient appliances, and pay you $75 if you cut your home energy consumption by 10% for a year. But you may not realize that BC Hydro is working just as hard (and just as successfully) on energy conservation with the big guys, the companies who draw large quantities of electricity to keep B.C.'s industrial engine stoked.

Big facilities, big energy use

"There are some motors in industrial facilities that use as much electricity as a small community," says Dave Hargreaves, BC Hydro's Manager of Industrial Marketing. "If we can help those customers reduce their energy use and become more efficient, there's a huge energy savings potential there."

Huge indeed. Of BC Hydro's 1.8 million customers, only about 2,500 are industrial, but together they use about 40% of the energy consumed in the province. A single typical pulp mill uses 400 gigawatt hours (GWh) of energy per year – the same as about 36,000 homes, or all the homes in Mission, Campbell River, and Kitimat combined.

Now that the new provincial Clean Energy Act requires BC Hydro to use conservation tactics (rather than new sources of generation) to meet 66% of all new electricity demand, the effort is on to encourage all energy users – especially these large companies – to save.

Power Smart's industrial program helps companies analyze their energy use, pinpoint opportunities for savings, and implement energy efficient technology. Over time, they encourage a comprehensive energy management approach based on employee engagement, monitoring and tracking, and continuous improvement.

"It's getting them to look at their whole energy strategy," says Hargreaves. "When you look at industrial customers, there's almost always something they can do to improve efficiency."

Helping industry cut energy use

Power Smart's industrial program provides financial incentives, tailored studies and workshops, and access to BC Hydro technical expertise and support. It's an approach greatly appreciated by customers.

"We're not in the energy business – we're in the business of processing wood fibre. BC Hydro understands energy conservation," says Greg Stewart, President of Sinclar Group.

The forest products company saved 1.3 GWh of energy per year (enough to power 118 homes) within just three months of working with Power Smart, and has set its sights on saving 12 GWh per year. "They provided expertise, and financial support. Without all that, it would be very tough in an organization like ours to do this."

"I'm very grateful for BC Hydro. They have a lot of talented people who are willing to sit down and work with you," says Derek Sephton, Maintenance Manager for the Langley plant of IPEX Inc., a designer and manufacturer of integrated plastic piping systems.

The IPEX plant has saved 1.4 GWh of energy per year through improvements to its cooling processes and lighting systems, paid for in part by Power Smart incentives of $220,000.

"Being part of the Power Smart Partner program has meant energy conservation has just grown into IPEX," Sephton says. "It's part of our lives now to look for any kind of energy savings."

Power saved? Enough to power 72,000 homes

To date, Power Smart's industrial programs have resulted in savings of 593.6 GWh of electricity per year, and industrial rate structures have saved 193 GWh of electricity per year. Together that's enough electricity to power every home in Richmond – about 72,000 homes.

The numbers show that industrial customers are doing their part to conserve: over 40% of Power Smart energy savings come from industrial customers. And there's more to come. Over the next four years, BC Hydro expects to invest an additional $80 million in industrial sector efficiency programs.

Since conservation is the least expensive way to source new supplies of electricity, the utility estimates the investment will yield a return of $120 million. The business case for demand side management programs is based on the cost of the alternative – building new power generation facilities. But Hargreaves says there are benefits to conservation that go beyond the bottom line.

"Reducing inefficiency and helping industrial customers is good for the whole province," he says. "Efficient systems run better, and help to improve product quality. That makes B.C. industries more competitive against companies in other jurisdictions and helps support our B.C. job base."

Sephton agrees. "We've all got to do our part, whether it's here at IPEX Langley, or as a homeowner. As a company, whatever we can do to support the province and support BC Hydro, it's going to also help us to manage our business and keep our costs under control."

Says Hargreaves, "If we all help save electricity, we all continue to keep our rates relatively low compared to other places. That's not only good for industrial competitiveness, it's good for every one of us who pays a Hydro bill."

Nina Winham is a Vancouver-based sustainability consultant and a frequent contributor to and the Current Industrial eNewsletter.

Source: BC Hydro News