Energy Savings from Refrigerator Recycling Result in Cash to Sustainability Programs

Is it possible to have too many refrigerators? That was a question posed to three Vancouver high schools that recently participated in a conservation pilot project designed to reduce both energy consumption and carbon footprint resulting from fridges in schools.

The answer: A resounding yes.

The pilot program was built on three assumptions: that schools have many old refrigerators; that many of the older units were donations from parents; and that schools have more fridges than needed.

Participating schools, with the support of the school district's Facilities Department, conducted an audit to identify all the refrigerators in the school, their age, size and energy consumption. As part of the audit, schools also calculated how much energy would be saved if the fridges were removed from service.

This resulted in schools having internal discussions on the needs for fridges versus the wants, and what could be done to reduce their refrigerator footprint.

The three schools - Gladstone, John Oliver and Windermere - decided to remove 25 refrigerators and freezer units. As an incentive for reducing the total refrigerator count the schools qualified for 11 new Energy Star-rated refrigerators to replace the outdated units removed, with 14 units completely retired from service. The schools also received a cheque based on the energy they helped save the district, which they will use for other energy conservation and sustainability programs in their schools. All 25 units removed from the district have been recycled and decommissioned by a BC Hydro approved contractor in an environmentally responsible manner. A number of individuals and internal departments were instrumental for the success of this program, such as VSB Facilities, Purchasing & Food Services, and Material Services.

"While only three schools participated in this pilot program, the potential energy savings when scaled up to the entire district are significant," said Kirthi Roberts, the VSB's Manager of Energy & Climate Action. "If the entire district participated in such a program, the energy saved from the excess refrigerator capacity could effectively remove two to three elementary schools from the BC Hydro electricity grid."

A number of changes in the regulatory landscape, as well as in the general market place, prompted the VSB to pay close attention to energy consumption and carbon emissions. In particular, the price of energy is steadily rising, and increases are expected into the foreseeable future. The electricity price rose 7.3 per cent last year and has increased another 9.2 per cent as of April, 2011. Additionally, it is expected that electricity costs will rise by more than 12 per cent in the next year.

The provincial government has also put a price on carbon, meaning that the school district has to pay a price for every carbon dioxide molecule emitted as part of running our facilities. As part of the province's carbon-neutral mandate, school districts have to purchase carbon offsets for every tonne of carbon dioxide emissions, resulting in an annual bill of nearly $500,000.

If we ignore these pressures and do not respond accordingly, the costs to operate our facilities will continue to rise and put additional pressure on the entire district. The school district intends to expand the refrigeration energy conservation program to every school in the 2011-12 school year.

For more information contact Kirthi Roberts at: kiroberts@vsb.bc.ca

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