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Co-op student's fresh thinking leads to new efficiency opportunities

UBC Okanagan student Flurin Obrist at West Fraser's Cariboo Pulp & Paper (CPP) facility in Quesnel, B.C.
UBC Okanagan student Flurin Obrist wraps up his eight month co-op placement at West Fraser's Cariboo Pulp & Paper (CPP) facility in Quesnel, B.C.

BC Hydro-funded co-op students provide support for Energy Managers

We're very proud of the difference our co-funded Industrial Energy Managers make to organizations. They work with many of our largest customers, helping to:

  • Take a strategic approach to meet an organization's energy goals and objectives.
  • Implement energy saving projects that make good business sense.
  • Increase Energy Management Assessment scores each year.
  • Engage people at all levels of the organization to be more energy-efficient – both at home and at work.

Another part of the Industrial Energy Manager (IEM) program is our co-operative educational offer.

"We offer funding support for Energy Managers to hire co-op students to help support their energy management role at customer sites," explains Malcolm Wheeler, Program Manager at BC Hydro. "For Energy Managers, it can increase the impact they have on an organization. And for students, it offers invaluable experience if they're planning an energy or engineering-related career."

Co-op program, a win-win for students and organizations

Of course, you don't have to be part of our IEM program to offer energy-related co-op student opportunities in your facility or organization. If your business is interested in hiring a co-op student outside of the IEM program, you'll find many post-secondary institutions offer their own programs, such as this one from UBC. We've got Strategic Energy Management (SEM) programs and employee engagement tools available to all industrial customers. You'll be surprised at the value some fresh thinking can bring.

To demonstrate this, we spoke to Flurin Obrist, a co-op student in his final year of an Engineering degree at UBC Okanagan in Kelowna. Obrist is just wrapping up an eight month placement with West Fraser. He spent one half of it with the corporate team, and the other half at their Cariboo Pulp & Paper (CPP) facility in Quesnel, B.C., 120km south of Prince George.

West Fraser's long term commitment to energy efficiency has given Obrist plenty of opportunities to learn and contribute to a variety of projects. "Obrist has done an exceptional job. He's completed some really advanced work, and in many ways, he's been playing the role of Energy Manager." says Matt Steele, Senior Key Account Manager at BC Hydro.

Obrist's list of accomplishments in such a short time is a great example of how large facilities can benefit from providing opportunities to newer team members, or co-op students.

Running energy scans provides exposure to many areas of mill operations

"CPP is a big site, so there are always going to be some potential energy saving opportunities," says Obrist. "For the energy scans, my role was doing a lot of the co-ordinating – splitting the mill into different areas and figuring out who to involve and who to ask questions. It was a great way to get to know everybody and their roles."

Sam Walker, an Energy Coach at Stillwater Energy who partners with West Fraser, worked closely with Obrist.

"One area Obrist provided particular value in the CPP energy scan was collecting equipment lists, inventory lists and past energy studies – all the context that helps to make an energy scan a success. It's so important to be able to review information ahead of the scan and Obrist was on top of it at all times."

The energy scans also helped Obrist to expand his broader skillset. "I learned plenty of transferrable project management skills, along with all kinds of insights about the equipment – including compressed air performance, benchmarking and common sequencing strategies. Plus, I got to explore soot blowers for boilers. It was great to be able to watch them in action."

Gathering carbon footprint and energy intensity data

Identifying opportunities to reduce the mill's energy usage through 'opportunity registers' is an important part of effective energy management.

"Over the summer, I gathered a list of opportunities around reducing our carbon footprint and energy intensity," says Obrist. "And I spent a large part of my co-op time collecting data to put into the Environmental Social Governance (ESG) reports [PDF] that West Fraser use to disclose energy and emissions figures every year."

Above and beyond in co-op achievements

While energy scans and opportunity registers would keep most people busy for eight months, Obrist has also found time to contribute to:

  • Coaching calls: "We've done quite a bit of energy modelling at CPP and at our nearby facility, Quesnel Plywood. I helped the team collect data, put it into models, and provide feedback where I could during coaching calls."
  • Funding applications: "I've collaborated with the team and with BC Hydro for funding on a range of different projects. Right now we're doing a feasibility study on our chip blowers. There was also a steam study funded by BC Hydro and I'm also actively pursuing funding to replace our older lighting with LEDs."
  • Variable frequency drive trials: Some modern kilns have variable frequency drives (VFDs) that adjust the speed of the motors regulate the air velocity within the kiln. "However, many of these kilns are often not fully optimized for each load," says Obrist, who has been investigating VFD trials and looking for places to better utilize VFDs.

So what's next for Obrist? "I'm originally from Alberta, but after I graduate, I'd like to stay in B.C. – there are lots of fields of engineering I'm interested in. Before I finish at West Fraser, I want to speak to project engineers and the reliability group. There's so much more I still want to explore."

What skills should you look for?

Obrist is one of 15 co-op students who participate in our program every year. When we're helping customers to select suitable co-op students, what do we look for?

"Traditionally, we bring in third and fourth year Engineering students," says Malcolm Wheeler. "But we're also open to trialling positions for other disciplines, such as Communications students to help Energy Managers ensure that everybody in their organization is aware of internal energy achievements, opportunities and strategies."

How to get involved

If you want to find out more about BC Hydro funded co-op students or engaging new employees, ask your Key Account Manager or Regional Energy Manager about our co-op student program and related SEM programs and tools. You can also call us at 604 522 4713 in the Lower Mainland or 1 866 522 4713 elsewhere in B.C.