Healthcare Energy Prescription: Keep Power Flowing, Then Save Money

February 24, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

hospitalHealthcare facilities – especially hospitals that run on a 24/7 basis – are a special vertical in the landscape of energy use and efficiency. In almost all other segments, the idea that electricity is a “life and death” issue is an exaggeration. In healthcare, it often is the absolute truth. It is possible, however, for hospitals — such as the Carolinas HealthCare System-Pineville in Charlotte, NC — to become more energy efficient.

The power in a hospital cannot go down. This of course puts the onus on strong primary and backup systems. “Healthcare facilities, particularly hospitals, are notorious for high energy use,” Casey Talon, a Principal Research Analyst at Navigant Research, told Energy Manager Today. “Most hospitals operate 24 hours a day, 365 days per year, and are governed by a unique set of regulations and technical requirements. Healthcare facilities and hospitals are transitioning to adopt new and more strategic energy management policies.”

It should be noted that even a good backup system likely will provide power for only a limited time and delay very important – albeit not life threatening – procedures. This suggests that energy efficiency is a secondary factor. At some point, however, the two overlap. “Above all, keeping the power supply on at a healthcare facility is critical,” Talon wrote. “Although cutting costs has become a more significant driver in recent years, the business of healthcare facilities is to save lives, not money or energy. Emergency power supply systems (EPSSs), such as microgrids, backup generators, and combined heat and power (CHP),have become more significant.”

That other reality of energy usage in a hospital – one which is share with the hospitality industry – is that it the uses are exceedingly broad. Hotels and hospitals generally run food services and business offices in addition to their main tasks (guest and patient rooms, respectively). Of course, hospitals take it a step farther by having expansive onsite laundry services and providing electricity to run the wide variety of equipment that it used to care for patients.

The bottom line is that energy is as vital as it is complex in healthcare. Last week, Health Facilities Management profiled the energy the Carolinas HealthCare System-Pineville. The facility has made a startling turnaround. It was last, the story said, in energy efficiency when compared to the other 39 facilities in the system. The piece says that it has used a combination of “tried and true” techniques, capital improvements and programs from the American Society for Healthcare engineering to reduce energy consumption by 26 percent in 18 months.

The story offered details of what the facility did to reverse its fortunes. Descriptions of the steps are offered in great detail in the story. Among the many chances outlined in the story include lighting and light control modernization, an occupancy room sensor pilot project and improved hot water technology.

Another piece – this one sponsored by the Alabama Media Group Marketing Staff – that also posted last week did two things: It offered a list of best practices and a small profile of Weed Army Community Hospital, which is at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, CA.

The best practices are a mix of healthcare specific measures. The seven best practices are a mix of general and healthcare-specific recommendations.

  • Set energy goals and put a professional in charge of fulfilling them.
  • Update medical equipment – such as MRI and CT scanners – as more energy-efficient models are released.
  • Audit existing equipment for energy waste.
  • Look to reduce inefficiencies in the hospital laundry.
  • Look to reduce inefficiencies in waste management.
  • Upgrade PCs and other office equipment to more energy-efficient models.
  • Implement renewables.

Weed Army Community Hospital, the story says, is a 215,000 square foot facility that has installed a 2.4 MW of solar infrastructure. The facility, the story said, may become one of the only net-zero hospitals in the country. It has reduced its energy use by 33.2 percent, decreased emissions by 1,403 metric tons – and collected more than $2 million in rebates from local utilities.

Last year, Navigant conducted research on the worldwide healthcare energy management systems market. The firm found that its value will pass $2.2 billion by 2024.  The release pointed to rising healthcare costs and competitive pressures as drivers. The third driver – and the most interesting – is concerns about the stability of power in the face of natural disasters. In other words, the energy management system market will be partly driven by the fact that facilities managers and other stakeholders are less confident of the grid’s ability to deliver power reliably. “The top three drivers that are acting as a catalyst for change are rising costs and limited budgets, competitive environment, and resilience concerns,” Talon wrote.

The key may be resilience. The could of losing the power to save lives may ultimately be a linchpin to the fundamental changes that encompass steps toward both distributed energy and energy efficiency.

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