Canada’s BC Hydro, which serves 1.9 million electricity customers throughout British Columbia, will celebrate 25 years of energy management this year through Power Smart, its division responsible for reducing energy consumption.

In an interview with The Vancouver Sun, Power Smart manager Jim Nelson and director Stephen Hobson said the department was created with the premise that it was “cheaper to conserve a kilowatt hour, and redirect it, than to create one anew”.

Energy savings

When Power Smart was launched in 1989, the goal to free up 2,400 gigawatt hours of electricity by 1998 — enough to supply Greater Victoria for a year — seemed far fetched.

But $225 million (US$205 million) in incentives and subsidies later, that goal was reached and surpassed by more than 6,800 gigawatts hours — enough to power 620,000 homes for a year, the newspaper reports.

A quarter of a century later, BC Hydro now expects 78 per cent of its future load growth to come from Power Smart initiatives, a target saving of 7,800 gigawatt hours a year by 2021.

This means that new demand will be offset in reductions in the energy consumption of homes, businesses, municipalities and industries, leaving the utility to produce an extra 22 per cent of new electricity.

Mr Hobson said: “That’s a pretty aggressive target. But it always comes down to technological disruptions or innovations, and Steve and I have seen these ebbs and flows with people thinking there’s no more to be done when along comes a new wave of products and solutions.”

Customer engagement

Hobson said it took a lot of effort to get retailers and consumers to buy into energy-saving products.

He said: “When you go into a Home Depot or London Drugs and you see an LED light bulb, that just didn’t happen. We were working behind the scenes with manufacturers and retailers to convince them to bring in these products.”

Power Smart also works in the background with government and manufacturers to ensure quality control of new products.

Hobson said: “If the LED light’s not right, if it’s too bright or not bright enough, and if it burns out too quickly, you’ll likely be disappointed and not buy any more. We do a lot of work with manufacturers on standards to ensure customers have a good experience.”

Energy management partnerships

One of the mistakes Power Smart made in the early days was trying to do it all themselves, which “backfired”, said Nelson.

He said: “We found we needed partnerships and now we’ve got 1,300 partner entities we work with — retailers, manufacturers, electrical product distributors, engineering consulting firms, architects. These are channels into the market and we learned very quickly these partners are much better at doing this than we are.”

Big data – the next frontier

Looking to the future, Power Smart is sizing up two major changes expected within the next 10 years — the demand for electric vehicles and the advent of the connected building.

The connected building, with the possibility that all appliances — from an electric toothbrush to the furnace — can be monitored over a network and run by a smartphone app, would produce a huge amount of data.

This data could provide the platform for creating a virtual online energy coach to help homeowners and businesses manage their energy use, noted Hobson.

He said: “The whole idea of big data is starting to hit us squarely right now. It’s the new frontier.”