Implementing a multimillion-dollar energy retrofit for Air Canada's mammoth Vancouver Operations Centre

In 2001, Air Canada acquired Canadian Airlines International Ltd. (Canadian) -- Canada's second-largest airline, carrying almost 12 million passengers to over 160 destinations in 17 countries.


"This project would not have succeeded the way it did without the assistance we received from the resident 'energy champion'. An energy champion helps us to overcome obstacles in the way of project approval and is dedicated to making the project a success."

--Brian O'Donnell, Prism Engineering


Prior to its acquisition, as Canadian Airlines faced tough economic times, it realized that its massive Vancouver Operations Centre, constructed in 1969, was consuming $1.8 million worth of gas and electricity per year and was in need of an extensive energy retrofit. The facility, located in Richmond, BC, comprises over one million square feet; it consists of four maintenance hangars and associated shops totalling 42,000 square metres (460,000 square feet), a 20,000-square-metre (220,000-square-foot) simulator area, stores, test cells, and 30,000 square metres (326,000 square feet) of office space.


In 1996, as the energy consultant, Prism carried out an in-depth energy audit of mechanical and electrical systems, analyzed existing energy use, and made detailed recommendations along with estimating installation costs and projected savings for each. Prism was instrumental in securing BC Hydro incentives and convincing senior management of the feasibility and relatively short payback of the multimillion-dollar energy retrofit project. Among the $1.7 million worth of upgrades that Prism identified and subsequently implemented were the following:


  • installation of more than 8,000 T8 fluorescent lamps, hybrid electronic ballasts and specular reflectors
  • replacement of 600 Very High Output (VHO) fluorescent luminaires in the shops and hangars with metal halide lamps in high-efficiency fixtures
  • addition of lighting controls to the direct digital control system, photocell control for hangar fixtures and occupancy sensors for warehouse aisle lighting


  • conversion of dual duct fan systems to variable air volume, reducing fan horsepower by 50%
  • installation of 28 variable speed drives (VSDs) on supply and return fans
  • addition of solar film to the windows, allowing four supplemental cooling rooftop units to be shut down
  • implementation of improved control strategies for fresh air mixing, temperature and occupancy, as well as for operating schedules of fans, lights, pumps, chillers, cooling towers and boilers


The project, which was managed by Prism on schedule and on budget, resulted in:

  • energy savings of $525,000 for 1996--representing a 29% reduction in consumption
  • a 43% reduction in electricity consumed by lighting
  • a simple payback for the project of under two years, once the utility rebate is considered
  • local and international American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) awards for the project's innovative design and proven savings

The unmitigated success of this project resulted in Canadian Airlines undertaking energy management measures at all its properties and, at that time, hiring a full time Energy Manager.