Energy Efficiency’s Healthcare Facility Challenge

November 8, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

hospitalHealthcare facilities face special challenges in energy efficiency. Not only must they cope with the well know challenges of energy management, they must do so in a setting that is as mission-critical as it is possible to be. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that an energy manager is a key player on a patient’s healthcare team.

The first challenge is that they simply can’t go offline. It’s one thing to close down an assembly line or even lose stock in a refrigerator when it fails. It’s another thing to lose power in the emergency room. It can’t happen. The second element that puts pressure on hospitals is that energy is used for more things than perhaps any other type of facility: Like universities and lodges, hospitals provide energy for living quarters, offices and laundry and food services. On top of that, however, is all the medical equipment.

The final difference – a subtle one pointed out in an interesting two-part feature package at Facilities.net – is that air quality is particularly important in healthcare settings. Filtering of impurities takes on added importance when a good portion of the people in the structure are quite ill, have communicable diseases, or both.

Isaac Brown, the Executive Director of the Healthy Energy in Healthcare Coalition, posted a commentary yesterday at The Hill, a political site, in which he advocated energy policies directly aimed at healthcare facilities. He said that hospitals – which Brown wrote spent more than $9 billion on energy last year – are benefiting from typical energy saving steps such as switching to LEDs. But the real gains, he suggests, will come when Congress enacts healthcare-specific programs, he wrote:

Such an effort would trigger widespread adoption of sustainable, cost-cutting, energy-efficient practices in America’s hospitals. The policies this effort would create stand to reduce healthcare costs and improve patient quality of care while spurring job growth and economic development in the United States.

The bottom line is that energy efficient healthcare operation requires no special equipment – a building is a building, after all – but calls for a comprehensive and savvy mix of what is available.

This clearly is happening in a number of places. For instance, The Doylestown Hospital received $537,000 in incentives from PECO, a utility in Pennsylvania, for installation of a combined heat and power system that is expected to save more than 13,000 kWh of energy annually. The Patch story says that the 1.6 MW system is fed by natural gas that simultaneously produces heat and electricity.

A second recent example of energy efficient hospital operations is Mercyhealth Hospital-Rockton Avenue in Rockford, IL. The hospital recently won an award from the chain for its energy efficiency initiatives. The hospital installed high-efficiency boiler burners, variable frequency drive chillers and LEDs in a large part of the facility. The annual energy savings is estimated to be 100,000 therms and 1.5 kWh.

A third example is Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in the Charlestown Navy Yard of Boston. The facility was designed to use one-third less energy than similar hospitals and won LEED Gold rating status from the U.S. Green Building Council. The hospital went further: Last year, it used 15 percent less energy than in 2014. Steps that led to the reduction included energy sensors that cut heating and cooling in unoccupied spaces, LED retrofits, optimization of the chiller plant and retro-commissioning of the mechanical system. LEDs, it should be noted, must be certified to not exceed noise threshold when used near certain sensitive equipment.

The most important job in any healthcare facility is the well-being of patients. Increasingly, it is possible to reduce costs while increasing their comfort and even, in the case of filtration and LEDs, making hospitals a bit safer and more sanitary.

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