New tech can save money and time

A new ice-making system installed by the Cowichan Valley Regional District at arenas in the Island Savings Centre and Kerry Park Recreation Centre is just one example of how new technology can be employed to save money for local governments.

The REALice system reduces energy usage by spinning water in a vortex to remove tiny air bubbles, rather than pre-heating it, as the traditional ice-making process does. The resulting water requires less work by the refrigeration plant to freeze, higher brine temperatures, and less energy to dehumidify the arena.

All told, it adds up to more than $8,000 savings at each arena, along with a reduction of 35 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

While users of the arenas were pleased with the final product, operators and taxpayers alike were impressed with the savings, and the new system caught the eyes of other arena operators in the region as well.

"The results of cost savings while keeping good ice is the breakthrough that will positively impact all arena ice facilities," Ernie Mansueti, director of parks and recreation for North Cowichan, which owns Fuller Lake Arena, said earlier this year.

Jordan Bateman, B.C. director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, says everyone, not just local governments, needs to be on the lookout for new technology that can save money in the long run.

"It’s not just cities," he said. "All businesses need to be aware of it. There are new technologies coming online all the time. You don’t have to be the first to implement them, but you have to be aware."

Some technology may be costly to purchase initially, but users can reap rewards down the road, Bateman noted. In that regard, governments have advantages that most businesses don’t.

"A government knows that it’s going to be there 20 years from now," he said. "They can take 10, 15, 20 years to look at technological solutions, knowing that they’ll be there in the end. If the savings start to mount in year 20 or 25, businesses rarely have the luxury to think that far ahead."

One of Bateman’s specific examples is how new technology can be used to monitor sewer and water systems, something the City of Duncan has done, with multiple benefits.

"We have instituted SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) for our water and sewer system," Duncan Chief Administrative Officer Peter de Verteuil noted. "Prior to this, we used to have a utility crew member take well readings for two hours every day. Now we have better data and controls, and his time can be spent elsewhere."

Like many local governments in the Cowichan Valley, Duncan has issued iPads to councillors, where they can review agendas that don’t need to be printed, which has saved time and money for the city.

"There is a minimal cost benefit of reduced paper and copying costs, but the larger benefit is in the staff time for printing and collating," de Verteuil said.

The saving of time – which in turn leads to saving money – has been a major consequence to many of the city’s technological advances.

"Most of the technological improvements we have made have a side benefit of improving efficiencies which help keep staffing levels from increasing even with increased service, which indirectly combat costs," de Verteuil noted.

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