7 things you should know about energy, innovation, and the future

Image of greenhouses on Vancouver at night

Our key account managers serve up a list of what's happening & on the horizon

How do you keep on top of best practices in energy efficiency? One way is to ask a BC Hydro key account manager — the people who work side by side with large organizations to help them maximize their energy efficiency.

We asked a group of them to tell us what they see driving change and sparking innovation, and how to stay ahead of the curve. Here's what we learned.

1. Demand for energy efficiency is growing

From office tenants seeking to improve their green credibility, public authorities hoping to save costs, to employees who want their employer to take action on sustainability, interest in energy efficiency is on the rise.

"We're seeing customers request green leases and new tenants drive major conservation projects in facilities," says key account manager Cory Farquharson. "This driver will only increase as more and more consumers realize the cost savings of these projects along with their unmeasurable benefits such as employee satisfaction and productivity increase."

"A lot of the newer generation want to be part of an organization that is considered green, sustainable, doing the right thing for the environment," says Jeff Whitson. "It's definitely on the agenda now, where it wasn't being talked about a few years ago."

2. Financial returns are on the rise (and corporate buy-in too)

As energy rates increase, financial returns for energy efficiency projects improve, becoming a major driver in companies' action on efficiency. This makes it easier to pitch energy efficiency projects internally, even those that may have been turned down a few years ago. "With rate changes, we're seeing rising corporate buy-in due to cost avoidance," says Lindsay Smilgis.

Innovation includes organizations setting up "green revolving funds," says KAM Ron Mastromonaco, where the cost-savings from one project are re-invested in the next opportunity.

3. We live in an overbuilt world (or, there's opportunity everywhere)

Energy in B.C. has always been affordable relative to other jurisdictions. So designers erred on the side of using too much energy rather than creating building systems that might not handle a necessary load. What that means today is that systems can often be replaced with options that are not only more efficient, but smaller overall than their predecessor, increasing the potential savings.

"When buildings first get built and commissioned no one wants to be caught in a situation where they're running out of capacity," says Whitson. "We spend years working to undo all that with custom retrofits, but you get better savings if you right-size the systems from the start."

Key areas to consider for right-sizing are office lighting, where over-lighting offers significant opportunities for savings, and building and kitchen ventilation systems, where variable speed fans can fine-tune the pace of air flow to needs.

4. Controls take savings to a new level

Energy efficiency opportunities come not only from equipment that uses electricity, but from making sure it only runs when required. Key account managers say today's control technology — including wireless controls — is reliable and effective, allowing re-thinking of whole systems instead of only component elements.

An example is bi-level lighting for stairwells and parkades, which offer huge savings by dimming lighting in spaces that are unoccupied most of the time. From the simple occupancy sensor in a bathroom to a computerized building control system that adjusts heating and lighting in response to daily usage patterns and weather, Farquharson says controls "really help customers reduce wasted energy."

5. Technology is great, but people and management practices make the difference

Working directly with BC Hydro customers, it's easy to see where energy efficiency efforts take off. The consistent finding is that technology is necessary, but employee education and engagement is what ensures savings are maintained (and improved) for the long term.

Smilgis points to the rise of new management practices that help keep awareness high and allow timely adjustments, such as night audits of facilities, and developing a strategic energy management plan.

Also key to successful efforts is senior leadership sponsorship and support. Says Kerry Fast, "I've seen companies that have the resources and capability to take on good energy-saving projects, but no one picks up the ball and runs because senior leadership isn't owning it."

Most say some of their best-performing customers are those who build energy targets right into senior leaders' performance evaluations.

6. Energy efficiency is going mainstream

Says Whitson, "I find that the awareness seems to be popping up from all different sources. Suppliers, manufacturers, everyone's getting onside with the energy story: they're not only pitching 'a great product at a great price' but also bringing something to the table around saving energy.

"It's driven by economics, awareness, carbon reductions, personal environmental commitment. Energy management is becoming more embedded and expected inside organizations — and that keeps driving more change."

Mastromonaco, who works with advanced education facilities, sees this shift taking root in a new generation. "The sector has been actively working on embedding sustainability and energy conservation within campus curriculum to allow students to work on class assignments that encompass these topics." Expect future employees to be that much more knowledgeable — and eager for change.

7. It's not as hard as you think

Says Farquharson, "I think a common misconception is the amount of work customers believe energy efficient projects to be. If there are options to implement more efficient, longer lasting pieces of equipment why not explore them?" He recommends bundling projects as an innovative way to bring down payback periods and build a stronger business case for a scope of work.

Farquharson says many organizations don't realize the breadth of BC Hydro's programs to support companies in making change, from studies to incentives to education. "Don't be afraid to ask," he says. "The number of people I talk with who say, 'There are incentives for that?' and are surprised that there could be potential funding is astonishing."