How energy efficiency is vital to achieving climate action goals while delivering quality healthcare
March 24, 2023 By Providence Health Care and FortisBC
March 24, 2023 – Healthcare facilities like hospitals and long-term care sites are energy-intensive places, and their energy demands can get costly. But some organizations are finding unique ways to take action.
Providence goes all-in on renewable natural gas
Providence Health Care is finding ways to care for its long-term care residents while lowering its environmental impact. In collaboration with FortisBC, it has implemented innovative and cost-effective energy-efficiency upgrades to its heating equipment at one of its long-term care homes in Vancouver.
The organization went a step further by subscribing to FortisBC’s Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) program—the first healthcare organization in B.C. to do this—which is helping to decarbonize its operations even further.
Together, this is helping lower annual operational costs and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while ensuring access to reliable energy through the gas system. This project is also serving as a blueprint for use in Providence’s other long-term care homes.
Taking care of residents
Providence Health Care operates acute-care hospitals and long-term care sites in Vancouver. Compassionate and respectful care is at the core of everything it does. For more than 10 years, Providence Health Care and FortisBC have worked together to improve the energy efficiency of healthcare facilities, which is helping support front-line services for British Columbians by reducing the money spent on energy costs.
“Patients and residents are the reason we do what we do, and why we continue to look for opportunities to make improvements that have a positive impact,” said Anthony Munster, executive director, Projects, Planning & Facilities Management, Providence Health Care.
“Improving operations through energy efficiency upgrades allows us to make spaces more comfortable while also reducing our environmental impact and meeting our climate action goals.”
Improving energy efficiency
To better understand what upgrades would make a positive impact at its facilities, Providence listened to the feedback and concerns of residents. Recent “heat domes” prompted conversations around the need to add cooling into long-term care homes to help make these spaces more comfortable for residents.
With this, Providence looked into the idea of adding cooling to one of its buildings. It then realized it could take this project a step further; there was an opportunity to add cooling, as well as save energy and lower GHG emissions by upgrading the heating system.
Providence’s St. Vincent’s: Brock Fahrni long-term care home in Vancouver is home to 148 residents, many of them armed forces veterans. The site includes an artworks studio, a greenhouse and multiple spaces for residents to gather and share in activities. This site was selected for a new high-efficiency heating and cooling system.
By replacing older equipment with high-efficiency technology, Providence found an opportunity to improve multiple systems at Brock Fahrni. A key consideration for Providence was to ensure it continued to have access to reliable energy, as it uses a significant amount of energy across its sites—from heating and sterilization to laundry—while serving the thousands of people it cares for.
“FortisBC’s ability to provide us with a reliable source of low-carbon renewable natural gas has been essential in ensuring the success of this project,” Munster continued. “They have supported us in finding the best way forward and covered some of the costs for this new high-efficiency equipment that is helping us achieve our organizational goals. We look forward to working together to roll out similar initiatives at our other sites.”
The thermal gradient header system is designed to transfer thermal energy through a set of connected pipes. It is an efficient technology that provides simultaneous heating and cooling—essentially functioning as a smart hub for thermal energy that is transported to different zones based on the energy demands of the building.
On top of that, Providence installed a high-efficiency condensing boiler to meet the heating demands of the building when there isn’t enough waste heat generated by the thermal gradient header system.
Making a sustainable impact in healthcare
Providence Health Care also sought to change the way it received energy at the long-term care home. It was decided that Providence would receive energy directly from FortisBC rather than using energy generated from a nearby steam plant, which is typically less efficient. By cutting out the need for steam heating, and with the addition of a new boiler, Providence improved the efficiency of its operations. This also created an opportunity for Providence to further reduce its environmental impact.
By working with Elizabeth Manhas, a key account manager at FortisBC, Providence learned it could further reduce GHG emissions through FortisBC’s RNG program. (FortisBC customers can subscribe to this program to designate a portion of their gas use as low-carbon RNG. Providence Health Care is the first healthcare organization to sign up for the program, and is now designating 100% of its gas use at this care home as RNG.)
All told, Providence is seeing substantial benefits from the project. It has lowered its annual energy use at the facility by more than 10,500 GJ—the energy equivalent to heating almost 125 homes for one year. It is also saving around $100,000 in annual operational costs, which helped cover the cost of becoming an RNG customer without impacting the overall budget for patient care.
And there’s more. Providence has seen a reduction of 485 tonnes of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) and received more than $300,000 in incentives through FortisBC’s Custom Efficiency Program, helping to cover a portion of the costs for the high-efficient technology.
The significant cost savings that result from investments in energy efficiency can help healthcare organizations, like Providence, take the next step toward decarbonizing operations while putting money back into services for patients and residents.
Replicating energy-efficiency success across other facilities
The successful completion of these energy efficiency upgrades supports Providence Health Care’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Project, which targets an 80% reduction in GHG emissions by 2024 at six core sites: St. Vincent’s: Langara, Mount Saint Joseph Hospital, Holy Family Hospital, Youville, St. Vincent’s: Honoria Conway and St. Vincent’s: Brock Fahrni.
To achieve this, Providence is looking at replicating this project across its other long-term care homes in Vancouver. Replicable projects are incredibly valuable because the same or very similar process can be taken from one building to another without having to design a different system. It can become a quick and easy win for an organization pursuing energy and cost savings.
“It’s inspiring to see how energy efficiency upgrades can have an environmental impact while also improving the spaces for the residents and patients in the buildings. It’s a win-win!” said Manhas. “Working together with Providence Health Care has shown the value of working together to ensure these projects are successful and cost-effective.”
“Providence Health Care is an exceptional leader in their sector when it comes to implementing energy efficiency upgrades that lower energy use, and then taking the next step by using RNG to further reduce GHG emissions,” Manhas added.
When looking ahead at how we will achieve provincial climate action goals, it’s important to consider how energy efficiency will help us get there. Using renewable and low-carbon gases is part of the solution, but we need to make sure we’re using energy efficiently to see even further GHG emissions reductions.
Supporting energy efficiency upgrades and investing in renewable and low-carbon gases is in line with FortisBC’s Clean Growth Pathway to 2050, as the company is committed to supporting B.C.’s lower-carbon future with affordable, reliable and diversified energy solutions.
This article was initially published by FortisBC on February 9, 2023. Republished with permission.
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