City of Richmond cuts energy use with high performance buildings

Image of Minoru community centre

New civic buildings will increase amenity space without adding to energy usage

The City of Richmond is a seasoned player in the energy efficiency game. The only municipality to have earned Power Smart Leader status, Richmond has had an energy conservation policy since 1991, a sustainable building policy since 2004 and has been tracking energy use, with a full-time energy manager in place, since 2007.

That work has resulted in annual energy savings (from electricity and gas together) of 38.7 GWh. That saves the City more than $650,000 per year.

Now, Richmond is working with us to ensure some of its most energy-intensive new buildings will not only serve a growing population, but improve efficiency as well.

New Construction Program ensures energy efficiency is built in from the beginning

By early 2017, Richmond will have a new integrated recreational facility, incorporating a pool, older adult centre and sports centre. It's also planning two new fire halls. All three facilities are working their way through the New Construction Program's Whole Building Design offer. The program provides financial support for an energy study and capital incentives for the implementation of specific energy efficiency measures.

Richmond's energy manager, Levi Higgs, says ensuring energy efficiency is built in from the start through an integrated design process is essential. "Making the investment in energy efficiency up front makes a big difference in the long run," he says. "You'd spend a lot more trying to retrofit later than you do making it the best you can at the beginning."

The new recreation centre will save energy through passive design principles — such as appropriate orientation to the sun, adequate insulation and highly efficient windows. It will recapture waste heat — such as that in warm air being vented — and generate some of its own energy through solar panels. (One fire hall will also use solar power, with an expected ability to produce about 33 per cent of the electricity it needs.)

Larger infrastructure accommodates population growth without growing energy bills

Compared to the facility it is replacing, the new recreation centre will be double in size — 110,000 sf compared to the current 55,000 sf. However, it will be so much more efficient that it will result in zero increase in energy usage.

"This is the crux of the issue in the City of Richmond: we have increasing populations," says Higgs. He says that they will be finding a way to deliver larger infrastructure and more amenities without a corresponding significant increase in energy usage or greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact, the City's Sustainable "High Performance" Building Policy specifies that new city-owned buildings must target no net increase in corporate building energy use as compared to 2012 levels and must be LEED Gold with at least 10 LEED points coming from energy performance criteria. The policy also sets energy efficiency targets for existing buildings.

Upgrading building controls the next focus for energy efficiency improvement

Higgs says his focus is increasingly on the efficiency performance of individual buildings, rather than broad City-wide energy targets. Upgrades planned for the future include enhancements to building automation systems so that facilities managers can optimize efficiency and spot operational anomalies as they occur.

Higgs credits Richmond's energy efficiency work today to the far-sightedness of Richmond's elected officials and staff twenty years ago. "I was impressed when I started as the energy manager in 2011," he says. "There are points in the original [1991] energy conservation policy that are still completely relevant today."

"In the mid-90s, the Mayor and staff brought energy efficiency forward as a real corporate culture initiative, and it stuck. You can see it with the people who have been here for a while. It's a well understood fact that energy efficiency is something that we do. And with the support we have from the City's current Council, energy efficiency will remain an integral part of our culture for the long term."