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5 reasons your B.C. school needs energy management, big and small

Image of Thompson River University's old main building
Thompson River University's Old Main building, originally built in 1970, got a new roof and an energy-efficient retrofit that has helped the Kamloops university reduce its energy use by 32% even as it grew to add the equivalent of twenty 10,000-square-foot buildings to the campus.

The kids want it, your community expects it, and it pays off in the bottom line

If you're sitting on the sidelines of the energy management revolution that has hit schools big and small in B.C., it's time to consider stepping onto the field, or at least hiring and supporting a quarterback to run the show. Your school or school district's future depends on your ability to do the right thing.

"Leaders want to be at the forefront of climate action and sustainability, helping pave the way and contributing," says BC Hydro's Linda van der Velden. "While budgets are tight for many school districts right now, sustainability remains a priority."

While energy has been traditionally viewed as a cost to be managed, forward-thinking companies know that energy management is a key lever of business success, with the power to set companies apart. BC Hydro is there to help with product incentives and funding. There's a growing network of more than 60 energy managers across B.C., including many at school districts and post-secondaries, who quarterback strategic energy management.

Having trouble justifying the effort and expense of a coordinated energy management plan at your school or district? Here are five reasons you need to do it.

1. It pays off in bottom line savings

It's a heady thing to be named one of only five universities in North American with a platinum rating in STARS, the go-to sustainability barometer for higher learning in North America. But Thompson River University's lofty ranking would never have happened if their energy manager hadn't delivered on a sound business case. TRU's lighting upgrades alone are saving the school $100,000 a year in electricity costs, and another $45,000 a year in maintenance savings. With support from BC Hydro's demand-side management programs, TRU has seen a 32% reduction in energy consumption even as the campus has added the equivalent of twenty 10,000-square-foot buildings to the campus.

In Surrey, the largest school district in B.C. has embraced strategic energy management to save nearly 30 gigawatt-hours in energy use over the past five years, or enough to power 2,700 B.C. homes. Surrey School District's cumulative cost savings from avoided energy use and greenhouse gas offsets adds up to $6.1 million in savings over five years.

2. Your strategic values demand it

It's almost certain that a component of your strategic values is helping your school or district reduce its environmental footprint. If the Province of B.C.'s mandated greenhouse gas emission reductions aren't enough incentive, consider that your neighbours who have embraced strategic energy management can make you look like you're falling behind. And you're missing out on big energy savings.

In the first year of the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district's four-year plan to work with BC Hydro and FortisBC, only one school got upgraded. By year four, more than two dozen schools or facilities had completed lighting and/or heating/cooling upgrades, to the tune of 4.4 million kilowatt-hours in electricity savings and nearly 10,000 gigajoules of natural gas use savings.

Since 2010, Surrey School District has added two administrative buildings, five new elementary schools and a secondary school. They've all been designed with energy efficiency and energy-saving measures in mind, and the energy intensity of those schools is 24% less than in the district's old schools. In the last five years, district-wide cuts in natural gas use have reduced GHG emissions by over 17,000 tonnes, the equivalent of taking nearly 8,000 cars off Canadian roads.

3. There are a whole lot of rebates and help out there

BC Hydro's Leadership in Energy Management program partners with some of B.C.'s largest commercial customers in the government, health care, education, and property management sectors. Customers with an energy manager in place can gain access to a wide range of energy management programs, tools and incentives, including energy studies and popular product incentives including LED lighting.

Surrey School District has leaned on an assortment of funding programs – from BC Hydro, FortisBC, B.C.'s Carbon Neutral Government program, PSECA and SolarBC – for significant annual utility and GHG emission savings for the district. Since 2011, Burnaby School District's energy efficiency measures have avoided 52.4 gigawatt hours of electricity use, and the district's combined electricity and gas use reductions have cut carbon emissions by 9,689 metric tons.

4. Your staff and students will be engaged

Your teachers and staff are less likely to be happy if you're not clearly embracing sustainability, or your facilities lack quality lighting and comfort. Your students aren't likely to be pleased either.

Lighting used to be largely about swapping out a similar lighting type for a more efficient one, with the type of light not changing much. B.C. school districts are now upgrading to LEDs that mimic daylight and which are increasingly managed by lighting controls.

Teachers in Burnaby and Surrey report using dimming to lower light levels at times when daylight is spilling through windows, while the class watches video, or as a means to teach to certain lesson plans or to calm students. And teacher and student enthusiasm for energy management is having a ripple effect. Students are driving action on sustainability, and in one Surrey school club, have reached out to help build community gardens, public benches and greenhouses.

At UBC, students played a huge role in pushing for the university to officially join the world in a declaration of a climate emergency and launching two steps toward greater divestment of its investments from the fossil fuel industry.

5. It's not just about savings – it's a nicer place to work

A few years back, the energy manager at North Vancouver's Capilano University was feeling stymied at selling the university's leaders on the idea of installing heat pumps at the school. In addition to building a business case, he carefully selected the room where he would make his pitch to the university's VP.

"It was summer, and the temperature in the room hit 35°C that day," says BC Hydro's Linda van der Velden with a chuckle. "That hammered home the reality of where things were at, and helped sell the business case. Occupant comfort and learning environment are critical needs."

Occupant comfort is considered one of the non-energy benefits (or NEBs) of energy management. The list of these benefits includes everything from increased system reliability and improved lighting and safety, to increased employee engagement and productivity.

A 2018 study by B.C.'s Prism Engineering asked 37 BC Hydro-funded energy managers about the non-energy benefits of energy management. Reduced operations and management costs topped the list, with more than half of energy managers saying those savings added up to 50% or more of the energy savings. Improved morale and air quality were the leading benefits for employees, along with improved health and productivity.

Learn more about how strategic energy management can benefit your organization.