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How to Speed up Decarbonization in BC – An Owner’s Perspective

Justin Blanchfield, PEng, MASc.

  • Justin Blanchfield began his energy efficiency career in 2009 when he joined SES Consulting.  Justin worked closely with our Contributing Editor, Brad White, at SES. While at SES, he rose through the ranks to become a Senior Mechanical Engineer and Partner.  Justin is particularly proud of his work supporting Audette’s launch, which was born through SES’s R&D department. Audette Manages Carbon Risk The Easy Way + Net zero planning for commercial real estate portfolios.
  • In 2019, Justin left consulting to join the owner’s side of the table.  
  • He is currently a member of the Island Health Authority’s energy team, where he developed and launched an internal energy auditing and continuous optimization program.


I recently attended a meeting with approximately 30 energy managers on the call.  I asked how many BC-based organizations expected to achieve their 2030 decarbonization targets.  Island Health was the only group that raised their hands.  Based on this highly unscientific poll, it appears that very few organizations in BC will achieve their targets on time.  

So why is Island Health different, and how can I leverage our experience to help others speed up their path to decarbonization?

We have amazing support from our executive and C-suite leadership.  Our funding has ramped up, and we are growing our energy team quickly.  An organizational commitment to decarbonize making these commitments public with metrics and annual reporting is fundamental.  I feel like this is the easy answer, though. Obviously, without funding and leadership support, your decarbonization plan is going nowhere fast.

Once an organization has this support and millions of dollars in capital, what comes next?  Spending lots of money by implementing hundreds of carbon reduction measures is quite difficult.  There are still many impediments to face and challenges to overcome. 

I want to present the following four ways to speed up our path to decarbonization:

  1. Building strong relationships 
  2. Internalizing Energy Efficiency Engineering
  3. Recovering from our addiction to analysis
  4. Starting with the end in mind and working backwards

Part 1 – Building strong relationships 

The first iteration of this article was developed for a panel discussion at our local annual Ashrae Trade Show.  I was thankful for the opportunity to speak, especially with such a special group of panellists.  For context, Brad White and I have been close friends for 20 years.  I was his best man at his wedding.  He was mine.  As the original founder of SES, Ken has been a mentor of mine for almost 15 years.  I hired Dami Dabiri while at SES.  I now provide personal coaching for him through his position at Audette, and we have become great friends. My trust and commitment to these people continue to grow.

So this is my first thought on how to speed up decarbonization; few things drive innovation and high performance more than a group of people with a common purpose and a strong sense of trust and commitment.

Here are three examples of relationships worth fostering:

  • Relationship building with executive and C-suite leadership builds trust.  The more success we achieve, the more support we get. These leaders can move mountains by providing access to capital, approving hiring plans, and removing almost any impediment in your way.
  • Executing successful capital projects requires cross-departmental collaboration between many teams, including energy, facilities maintenance, project management, asset management, purchasing, external consultants, and utility partners.  The better your relationships are with these people, the faster things happen. 
  • Improving relationships with your staff and colleagues improves morale and retention.  This creates longevity for your programs, and Rome was not built in a day.  Nor was it free from challenging work days that benefited greatly from a lunchtime walk with a supportive colleague. 

Part 2 – Internalizing energy efficiency Engineering

I recently developed and launched an internal energy auditing and continuous optimization program.  This program was developed for Island Health by Island Health as a pilot project supported by our utility partners.  We have internalized the function of identifying, implementing, and verifying energy conservation projects.  This is quite innovative since most organizations must leverage outside consultants for these services.

This is reminiscent of the dawn of the Internet era when IT services were typically only available through external consultants and contractors. As computers and the internet became ubiquitous in the workplace, IT services were internalized to improve quality, reduce cost, and speed up support services. 

Similarly, Energy Efficiency Engineering is becoming a critical core function for building owners. Buildings have become increasingly complex to operate.  Rather than assuming we can train our facility maintenance staff and BAS techs to become Energy Efficiency Engineers, why not hire an Engineer or two?

Our program results speak for themselves.  We achieve greater savings much faster at a fraction of the cost.  Quality is significantly improved since we have much better engagement with our facility maintenance staff, we spend way more time on-site, we retain all the knowledge gained in-house, and we can leverage advanced tools like fault detection and analytics software.  

Part 3 – Recovering from Our Addiction to Analysis 

BC organizations have incredible incentive support from our utility partners.  There is, however, a frustrating cost to many of the current incentive programs.  Projects claimed for incentives require a rigorous engineering study that calculates energy savings based on first principles and dozens of assumptions.  This creates an excessive cost burden for clients and slows their path to decarbonization.

How often must owners pay consultants to estimate the simple payback of scheduling your building off during unoccupied hours? What about turning your boilers off when it is hot outside or implementing Trim and Respond on your ventilation and hydronic systems?  These projects have paybacks of between 1 and 3 years.  Trust me.

We must stop spending so much time and money on energy-saving analysis for well-known, best-practice energy-saving measures.  Instead, we should focus these resources on designing and implementing as many measures as possible.  

Metrics of a successful decarbonization program must evolve away from estimated energy savings.  Instead, I propose the following metrics:

  • Actual measured savings 
  • Quantity of ECMs implemented 
  • Persistence of savings

Our internal program has allowed us to minimize the amount of analysis required.  The result is that we can achieve much cheaper savings in a fraction of the time.

Part 4 – Starting with the end in mind and working backwards

Building owners need to have a clear vision of what their future decarbonized buildings need to look like.  That allows us to work backwards and develop a roadmap for getting there. It may take decades to retrofit the building completely. However, every single retrofit along the way can be designed to fit incrementally into this future state.  Without this decarbonization roadmap, it’s too easy for owners to replace failed equipment with like-for-like solutions because there isn’t a plan for anything else.

As an example, one of our chillers is in urgent need of replacement.  Rather than replacing it with a new like-for-like chiller, we received approval to replace it with a heat recovery chiller. Even though we currently do not have a design for how to use the recovered heat, we know we have many future opportunities to do so. Installing a heat recovery chiller now enables these future heat recovery projects, a major component of our future decarbonized building.


Island Health is fully committed to our 2030 decarbonization targets. We have leadership support and capital. We are building strong relationships with the many stakeholders needed to execute this ambitious target. We have internalized our energy auditing and continuous optimization programs. We are pushing back on analysis requirements and focusing on implementing as many projects as possible and ensuring they work.  We are kicking off our portfolio-wide decarbonization roadmap with generous support from our utility partners. 

Decarbonization projects take time to execute, and 2030 is approaching quickly.  Based on the exceptional results of our pilot program, our utility partners are expanding the program to other organizations.  New positions are being posted. This is a great step in speeding up our path to decarbonization.