Providence Health Care has delivered several energy efficiency upgrades to its Brock Fahrni long-term care home in Vancouver, getting help from FortisBC to tackle the difficult-to-abate carbon footprint of the healthcare industry.
Providence operates acute-care hospitals and long-term care (LTC) sites in Vancouver.
It became the first healthcare organization to subscribe to FortisBC’s renewable natural gas (RNG) program, with 100 per cent of its gas now coming from RNG. Providence also lowered its annual energy use at the facility by more than 10,500 gigajoules – equivalent to the energy required to heat almost 125 homes for a year.
Reductions were calculated based on the average energy use of a home, taken from FortisBC’s data.
“That building was built, I believe, around 1980. It was built without any mechanical cooling capability. In 2019, we noticed that it was starting to get quite warm in the summers, to the point where it was getting a little bit unbearable for the residents. So we wanted to put mechanical cooling in, that would cool the entire building,” Providence executive director of projects, planning and facilities management Tony Munster told SustainableBiz. “But at the same time, we were getting more serious about our journey towards carbon neutrality.
"So we looked at ways that we could put cooling in, which would add a massive amount of electrical consumption to (a) building normally, but at the same time trying to lower our greenhouse gas emissions.”
Providence’s Brock Fahrni upgrades
Brock Fahrni is home to 148 residents, many of whom are veterans. It includes an art studio, a greenhouse and multiple common areas.
The project began with a study of the building by the two companies, after which FortisBC provided funding to Providence to purchase a thermal gradient heater from Vancouver-based Thermenex.
The thermal gradient heater reclaims waste heat that would otherwise be vented, Munster explained, and injects it back into its domestic hot water in the summer. This eliminates the use of natural gas or steam.
“And then in the winter, it actually heats the incoming air supply, to greatly reduce our reliance on natural gas or steam to do it.”
The company also installed a heat recovery chiller that sucks heat from the exhaust air and injects it into the supply air system without contamination. It is also able to constantly preheat the domestic water supply.
Providence is saving around $100,000 in annual operational costs, which it says helped cover the cost of becoming an RNG customer without impacting the overall patient care budget. It has seen a reduction of 485 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent and received more than $300,000 in incentives through FortisBC’s Custom Efficiency Program.
As of January 2023, FortisBC is receiving RNG from 12 suppliers – six from in B.C., and six from outside the province.
FortisBC’s regulator, the British Columbia Utilities Commission, has approved an additional 20 projects.
“We're looking at if there's any other opportunities with healthcare organizations to be able to do the same thing,” FortisBC corporate communications specialist Lauren Lea said.
Munster explained the challenge with the building wasn’t its long-term care operations, but its age, as it was constructed at a time when energy efficiency wasn’t a major concern.
“It's not a place that's only open business hours, and then as a skeleton staff after hours. (There) are people living in these places, and as far as seniors, you're not in long-term care unless you're frail,” he said. “So we had to be really sure that the system was going to work, because the last thing we wanted was to have no heat in the winter.”
To that end, the company installed a high-efficiency condensing boiler for when the thermal gradient heater doesn’t generate enough heat. The old steam system can still be utilized as a backup.
Providence’s future plans
Providence is hoping to replicate the Brock Fahrni results at other locations, implementing the technology at the Langara long-term care facility, as well as the Holy Family and Mount St. Joseph hospitals. Each of those sites has over 200 beds.
It also plans to switch the rest of its sites over to RNG as their emissions are lowered.
Providence has set emissions reductions targets at six of its seven core sites to reduce greenhouse gases by 80 per cent. The exception is St. Paul’s Hospital, because the company plans to build a new hospital by 2027.
In B.C., all public buildings have a target of 59 to 64 per cent emissions reductions by 2030 from 2007 levels.
“By its nature, healthcare can be quite energy intensive, the buildings (require) much more than most of the industries,” Munster said. “We take it very seriously that we need to do what we can, in any way, shape or form to reduce our carbon footprint, and our consumption of utilities.”