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Hospitals Due for Energy Efficiency Overhaul

hospital-imageHospitals and health care facilities are primed for a revolution in energy efficiency, achieved through changes as far-ranging as lighting, cooling towers, employee workflow and even on-site solar and wind.

As a sector, hospitals and health care facilities account for a disproportionate amount of energy use and emissions. Hospitals use about 2.5 times the amount of energy as a similar-sized commercial building, because they are open 24 hours a day and have extra commitments on air filtration and circulation, air cooling and waste management, experts say.

Indeed, health-care buildings are the second-most energy intensive type of commercial building, just behind foodservice operations, said Clark Reed, Director of the Healthcare Facilities Division in the Energy Star division of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Derek Wagner, EcoMagination leader for GE Healthcare, agreed, noting that for many years hospitals saw little or no need to improve, although that is starting to change.

“While other sectors have led the way in becoming greener, in the past few years hospitals have really come along,” Wagner said.

GE is working with clients on existing facilities, as well as new hospitals that want to be on the bleeding edge of environmental efficiencies, such as Asklepios in Hamburg, Germany. Known as the “Green Hospital,” Asklepios is being entirely planned and designed on ecological principles.

Scheduled for completion in 2013, Asklepios has a so-called 30-30-30 goal. That means increasing energy efficiency 30 percent, achieving a 30 percent reduction in energy consumption and deriving 30 percent of energy from renewables.

While Asklepios has lofty goals, for a closer-to-home example, look no further than La Crosse, Wis., where Gundersen Lutheran is forging a path that many other community hospitals can follow.

In February 2008, the hospital set a goal to reduce energy consumption 20 percent by the end of 2009 and to be 100 percent renewable energy by 2014. Learn more about its green initiative here.

As of earlier this year, Gundersen Lutheran had reduced energy consumption by 10 percent, which amounts to $409,000 in annualized savings, said Jerry Arndt, Senior Vice President of Business Services.

Arndt is a member of the Department of Energy’s, hospital energy alliance subcommittee, serving on the steering committee and representing the interests of smaller hospitals like Gundersen Lutheran that represent 85 percent of health care in the U.S.

Other hospital executives ask Arndt how to get the attention of C-suite, when energy represents just one or two percent of operating costs. Arndt revels in explaining how, at his hospital, it would take an extra $150 million in revenue to achieve the same sort of change to the bottom line that can be reached by improved energy efficiency.

“When you throw around figures like that, it tends to get the attention of everyone involved,” Arndt said, adding that “No one is too small to make changes.”

New construction hospitals can incorporate complex features like solar or geothermal energy, or feature improved workflow design to save energy, GE’s Wagner said.

But there are lower-hanging fruits. For instance, GE worked with Southern Maryland Hospital to save 17 million gallons of wastewater a year. The hospital’s HVAC cooling water tower previously was simply wasted or blown off, Wagner said. By better maintaining the water quality in the HVAC towers, Southern Maryland Hospital was able to reduce the number of cycles that the boiler runs.

The EPA has established a five-stage approach, performed chronologically to maximize energy savings, for all commercial buildings, including hospitals. The five steps are: retrocommissioning (ensuring that existing equipment is optimized for maximum efficiency), lighting evaluation, supplemental load reductions, updating the air handling system and right-sizing the building’s chiller.

“The first three steps are about reducing heat gain in the building,” Reed said. “The classic example is incandescent light bulbs, where 90 percent of the energy going into the bulb is not used. It just generates heat.”

Whenever possible, hospitals are urged to use Energy Star qualified products, which use 20 percent less electricity than industry averages.

Especially with the economy, it’s natural for hospitals to balk at adding costly solar arrays, Reed said, suggesting instead that hospitals wanting on-site renewable energy should consider power-purchase agreements (PPA) as a way to get capital-free solar.

Some are predicting that more than 80 percent of all solar on commercial buildings will come from PPA, Reed noted. “That takes out a lot of the research and the risk. The solar firms install the solar, maintain it and take the hassle out of it. Any hospital considering on-site solar should look at PPAs as well.”

This is Part 1 of a series on health care facilities and energy efficiency. Please refer to Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.

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7 thoughts on “Hospitals Due for Energy Efficiency Overhaul

  1. David:
    Chillers are typically oversized for future capacity (additions to the building) as well as safety factor included to cover the design engineers butt. The problem is the chiller will then run in at a part-load. This is typically less efficient than the full load efficiency. If the system is constantly running at part-load, there are efficiencies to be gained…

  2. This surprises no one, does it? After working in health care facilities for 34 years, virtually none of them were – or are – environmentally conscious. Unless society demands that governmental regulations are brought into force, the health care industry will continue to focus on only three things: 1) Image, 2) Profit, 3) See 1 & 2.

  3. I wanted to commend you on your article addressing energy efficiency in hospitals. I work as the hospital market manager with BetterBricks, the commercial building initiative of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance. BetterBricks promotes strategic energy management (SEM) in healthcare facilities and has seen tremendous success in energy reduction – in facilities both large and small.

    Gunderson Lutheran hospital has set laudable energy goals – this is a key first step in energy management. BetterBricks has also found that a system wide approach to strategic energy management where hospital executives commit staff and resources to achieve these goals is essential. PeaceHealth, for instance, operates seven hospitals throughout the northwest and Alaska – totaling 1,000 beds. The management team decided their hospitals could operate more efficiently if they adopted an overall Strategic Energy Management plan that integrates energy management into every-day business decisions around equipment operations and maintenance, energy efficient purchasing, capital upgrades, and new construction. Initial energy benchmarking and a facility survey revealed opportunities to reduce energy use by 10 percent over three years, representing $800,000 savings a year, system-wide. They are now into their second year implementing the SEM and have already met their first-year three percent reduction goal. A detailed article on PeaceHealth’s commitment to SEM, as well as other resources for reducing energy in hospitals, can be read at the BetterBricks website (http://www.betterbricks.com/healthcare).

    In addition, BetterBricks is currently involved with research investigating how the European hospital model might influence the way healthcare facilities are operated and designed in the U.S. This information will be available on the BetterBricks website in the coming months, so please check back soon.



  4. You got your cooling towers and your boilers mixed up in your discussion. You probably meant to say you reduced your blowdown/increased your cycles in both systems.

  5. Once again the misleading energy-saving light bulbs propaganda. The 90% of the energy fed to an incandescent bulb that doesn’t produce light IS used – to produce heat that would otherwise have to be generated by boilers or electric heaters. And an incandescent light bulb is near 100% recyclable, with the argon gas filling going back home to the atmosphere. In contrast, a “energy saving” bulb has a much more complicated envelope, which takes much more energy to form, is filled with poisonous mercury vapor and coated internally with poisonous phosphor compounds – i.e. totally non-recyclable and an environmental disaster. Add to that the non-recyclable electronic gubbins in the non-recyclable chunky base, all of which absorbs loads more energy during production than an incandescent and you have the basis of a huge scam that only allows the manufacturers to make much higher margins on the orders of magnitude more complicated and hence much more expensive manufacturing process. When will the world wake up to this?

  6. Dear Sir
    I have got task to develop energy conservation goals for my self as I m working as Energy Coordinator in a hospital.
    For this what should I consider to make my goals achievable?

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