B.C.'s brilliant energy future: a conservation vision


Study identifies 22,000 gigawatt hours a year in energy savings by 2026

A message from Lisa Coltart
Executive director, Power Smart and Customer Care

Imagine this headline: British Columbia identifies rich new source of untapped energy.

Your eyes widen as you read. This is an amazing discovery. It's relatively low cost. It's vast: enough to provide electrical power to two million households in B.C. by the year 2026. And best of all: it's green.

Green, low-cost, and rich with opportunity

Lisa Coltart, Executive director, Power Smart and Customer Care

The story gets even better. As we tap this energy source, we'll have the opportunity to leap to the forefront of an emerging industry.

Businesses, governments and utilities all over the world have a high demand for the innovation and technological development we could provide. This source of energy — if we move quickly and maximize our expertise — could turn us into a world leader in a green, knowledge-based industry.

And now the best part: this story is true. In fact, it's already happening.

The value of efficiency and conservation

The "vast source of new energy" right under our noses, which is already creating new technology, jobs, and opportunities in our province, is energy efficiency and conservation.

True, conservation doesn't grab as many headlines as solar panels and geothermal loops. But from where I sit, as the head of Power Smart — BC Hydro's demand-side management program — electricity conservation is one of the most exciting opportunities on the energy landscape today. 

Consider this:

  • 22,000 GWh: BC Hydro's 2007 Conservation Potential Review (CPR) identified a whopping 22,000 gigawatt hours per year of electricity that we can access through conservation measures by the year 2026.
  • Up to 50% new supply: To put that into perspective, BC Hydro currently generates between 43,000 and 56,000 gigawatt hours per year. So if we "harvest" all the electricity we currently use inefficiently, we will add up to 50% "new" supply to our current grid, compared to today's baseline.
  • Lowest cost: On average, energy efficiency and conservation costs as little as one-fifth to one-eighth the cost of other new clean resource options.
  • 6,000 jobs per year: Power Smart's conservation and efficiency initiatives are estimated to create 193,000 person years of employment over a 30 year period — more than 6,000 jobs per year. Already there are 137 energy managers at work across the province — a job that barely existed even five years ago.
  • Green expertise: BC Hydro is already a leader in demand side management, supporting the adoption of new technologies and practices, and recognized by repeated awards for conservation innovation. Together with conservation-focused startup ventures based in B.C., this is establishing a new industry and area of expertise for the province. One we can — and are — sharing with the world.
  • Savings achieved: We are already tapping our "new" supply. Since 2008 we have achieved 3,400 gigawatt hours a year of electricity savings — enough to power 309,000 B.C. homes. We've helped schools and hospitals improve their efficiency, freeing their budget for other priorities. We've improved B.C.'s industrial efficiency, saving companies money and helping them compete on the world stage. We've helped replace aging, inefficient technology, from pumps in mills to the incandescent light bulb in your living room. Together with the people of B.C., we are working hard to make the very most of our fabulous green energy resource.

By 2035, it will be clear that we are standing today on the cusp of a new energy era. Traditional sources of fossil fuel supply will become increasingly constrained. Demand will continue to grow, fueled by population growth and our continued adoption of electrical appliances and electronics.

In this context, world energy prices will rise, perhaps dramatically. And climate change will create increasing urgency around using energy as efficiently and cleanly as possible.

This is why conservation is one of the most lucrative niche markets around. I know the word "conservation" can sound old-fashioned; our country's conservation ethic was formed as we scraped through the Depression and world wars. This may be why "selling" conservation in B.C. — where we have one of North America's cheapest prices for electricity — can be a challenge.

All we truly know about 2035 is that it will be remarkably different from today, particularly in terms of energy. Given the challenges that lie ahead, we must focus on making the most of what we have. It's an old-fashioned idea, and a cutting edge opportunity. And it's the best way to help our province achieve a brilliant energy future.

This piece by Power Smart head Lisa Coltart originally appeared in a recent Vancouver Sun supplement, titled "BC2035," a series about our province's future.