How digging deep is helping to lower energy use in homes and buildings

Feb 27 2023, 7:03 pm

What if it took less than half as much energy to keep you in perfect comfort in your home, office, or whatever building you find yourself in? That’s exactly what’s needed to achieve the province’s critical net zero climate action goals by 2050. Given the number of homes and buildings that will have to undergo complex energy efficiency renovations, it’s no easy task. Fortunately, a team of passionate energy efficiency experts at FortisBC are focused on the challenge.

Unlocking the potential of deep energy efficiency upgrades

FortisBC’s Innovative Technologies & Projects team is exploring what it would take to get those next-level energy efficiency gains. Together with key industry stakeholders, they’re conducting deep energy retrofit pilot projects in 40 different buildings across BC. This includes single-family homes and four multi-family buildings. The largest and most ambitious project is a concrete high-rise in downtown Vancouver that houses low-income seniors.

A deep energy retrofit is a comprehensive renovation of a building to drastically reduce its energy use and associated carbon emissions by 50 per cent or more. By making the building as energy efficient as possible and installing high-performance gas heating systems the heating system requires very little energy to perform. The remaining energy can be easily met with 100 per cent renewable and low carbon fuels like Renewable Natural Gas or emerging zero-carbon fuels like hydrogen.

“We’re really passionate about doing this work. We know that so many buildings are more than 30 years old and will still be in active use in 2050. To meet climate action goals, it’s critical to dramatically lower the energy needs of those buildings, especially in instances when the gas system remains the most feasible option for heating,” explains Jim Kobialko, FortisBC’s manager of innovative technologies and projects.

“The work needed is well beyond simply swapping out a furnace or upgrading insulation. It typically involves detailed energy studies and completing a combination of measures to make the building and mechanical systems as energy efficient as possible, as well as providing the customer with support along the way.”

By leading pilot projects on a range of buildings across BC, his team is uncovering critical information about what it takes to conduct a deep energy retrofit in the most effective and affordable manner. The team is also researching technologies to support deep energy retrofits, such as air sealing advancements, AI-enabled energy evaluation software, and ultra-efficient natural gas heat pumps. As a part of this effort, they’ve invested $8.5 million in deep energy retrofit pilots in 2022, have applied to its regulator, the BC Utilities Commission, for close to $14 million in 2023, and expect that funding to grow in future years.

This work is critical to uncovering effective ways to move toward net-zero in buildings, especially those that must remain attached to the gas system because of energy costs, renovation costs, or the limits of the electric grid.

Partnering for results

Studying the effectiveness of deep energy retrofits pilots and sharing the learnings is a key part of providing energy for a better BC. That’s why FortisBC has partnered with a number of industry and municipal partners to make sure their deep energy retrofit pilots reflect the input and experience of others working in this field.

The information gained from deep energy retrofit pilot projects is expected to provide critical information on how best to achieve net-zero targets in gas-heated buildings and inform the next generation of energy conservation programs. FortisBC will be sharing the findings of these studies with industry stakeholders and customers to advance this important work in BC and beyond. To discuss the work FortisBC doing or to be considered for future pilots, email [email protected] or visit FortisBC Innovations Pilots.

Check out some of the other work that FortisBC is doing to decarbonize the gas system and help its customers lower their energy use.

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