Hospitals 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.”