No cookie-cutter formula for improving energy efficiency at health facilities

Deanna Fourt, Director of Energy Efficiency and Conservation for Island Health

Deanna Fourt, Director of Energy Efficiency and Conservation for Island Health, enjoys the new ER in Nanaimo where they have implemented Solar shades, a dispersement ventilation vent, B.C. wood first ceilings, low density lighting, and a natural light courtyard.
Photograph by: Lance Sullivan , Special to The vancouver sun

In most facilities, changing a lightbulb is a pretty simple task. But in a hospital, even minor tasks can be complicated.

“Trying to change a light bulb in a hospital is not trivial when you’re talking about infection control challenges and patient impact,” Jeff Whitson says. “In a simple office building, you don’t have the same challenges. That’s what I love about what I do. In a hospital setting, improving energy efficiency isn’t as simple as you might think.”

Whitson is the Key Account Manager for the health sector in B.C. It’s his job to help provincial health authorities who are part of the BC Hydro Power Smart Partner Program maximize the energy efficiency of their facilities.

“Every authority and facility is different and unique,” he says. “There’s no cookie-cutter formula.”

Through their partnership with BC Hydro, health authorities commit to devising a long-range Strategic Energy Management Plan. An Energy Manager helps the organization meet its goals.

Whitson talks to his energy managers “every single day,” he says, as part of ongoing collaborations on existing projects and identify new opportunities.

“We always have a running project list of good ideas in each health authority,” Whitson says.

Those ideas might come from the Energy Manager, the nurses, or any member of the employee base. “We have a good methodology to get those good ideas on paper. Then we strategize which ones we’re going to move forward with and those we’re going to park for a while.” At any given time, he might have anywhere from 50-75 projects going across the province. “There’s lots of project management involved in what I do, and lots of follow-up discussions on project status.”

Whitson estimates that more than 50 percent of those projects are based around upgrades or changes to lighting (infrastructure and controls) and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning).

“They can be small lighting retrofits to more complicated equipment replacements,” he says.

Many of the hospitals in the province are decades-old, and face the problem of aging infrastructure. A Strategic Energy Management Plan can help.

“A lot of these hospitals have been around a very long time,” Whitson says. “Equipment breaks down and they have to upgrade. And budgets are challenging – there’s lots of pressure on balancing the budget. Most hospitals don’t get a lot of capital to improve existing infrastructure.”

Which is where he comes in. “The partnership with BC Hydro works really well. If I can work with the health authorities to provide part of the funding, it makes those projects a lot easier to implement.”

BC Hydro Power Smart Partner Program incentives aren’t restricted to older facilities. New builds, like the recently opened pediatric emergency department at Surrey Memorial Hospital, can go through the BC Hydro New Construction program.

“We’ll do detailed energy modeling, just to make sure we encouraged the developers and the authorities to make the building as energy efficient as possible,” Whitson says. “We try to squeeze as much energy out of the building before it’s even built.”

As part of its overall Power Smart Partner Program, BC Hydro highlights organizations that are leaders in their sectors. To reach this level, “executive support and engagement from the senior levels down” is vital, he says.

“If you don’t have that you don’t get very far.”

A Strategic Energy Management Plan that outlines a strategy and implements elements every year needs to be in place as well. And “you have to have employee engagement, with all the employees going in the same direction,” Whitson says.

The Leadership in the BC Health Authorities continues to support BC Hydro’s Workplace Conservation Awareness program. This program engages and encourages all employees to share energy saving ideas that help to reduce unnecessary electrical consumption in Healthcare. “It is a critical component to our overall strategy for energy savings and often low cost or no cost to implement.”

We have had some amazing success by engaging staff in and it continues to build momentum across all different environments.”

The BC Hydro Power Smart Partner Program helps large businesses across British Columbia make energy efficient changes to their organizations that will create financial savings and change behaviors towards energy use. “The end objective of the partnership is to embed energy efficiency as part of the organization’s ongoing culture,” says Power Smart Partner Program Manager Paul Seo. 
In this series, we’ll look at how the Power Smart Partner Program is teaming up with these sectors to make a difference in their approach towards energy conservation.