Saving energy in hospitals – It’s not what you think

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Improving energy efficiency conjures up thoughts of new technology, capital expenditures and lengthy returns on investment. Greening Health Care (GHC) members are demonstrating that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Getting building systems running properly can produce greater savings at lower cost and in less time than traditional retrofit projects, delivering immediate benefits to the bottom line.

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Greening Health Care is a Canada-wide collective of hospitals using their energy data in much the same way a doctor would use a patient’s vital signs.  As Ian Jarvis, Greening Health Care’s energy efficiency guru puts it, “a building is like a person; you have to first assess the state of the patient before you can effectively plan and take action.”

In the past, a typical first step would have been a traditional energy audit.  An auditor would tour the facility and note such things as old inefficient equipment and building envelope issues.  The limitation with this approach is that it focuses almost exclusively on changing equipment and the associated capital investment, using theoretical engineering calculations to estimate savings.

“Analyzing the data first, tells you where your issues lie” Jarvis says. “The methodology is called Performance Based Conservation.  It’s a practical, empowering approach that will be standard operating procedure in the years to come.”

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The key to the GHC method is its massive database of hospital energy data, standards and best practices.  Through GHC webinars and workshops, facility managers learn to benchmark their energy use against similar facilities and analyse utility data trends over time in order to identify the specific building systems or operational practices that account for poor energy performance. At the same time, their experience gets compiled in the GHC database, adding further to the collective knowledge that drives the program.

Using this approach, Greening Health Care’s members are leading the way in real energy savings.

Grand River Hospital in Kitchener Waterloo has achieved $470,000 in savings across their two sites since their program began in 2012. Staff training, re-programming of automation systems and judicious applications of more efficient equipment have already lowered energy use by 13.3 per cent, and savings continue to improve every month. Best of all, the real savings are so big that the cost of the work is being paid for from the operating budget.

Jack Coutts, Director, Engineering Services at Grand River Hospital, puts it this way:  “With aging healthcare facilities there are many ways of achieving big savings while improving operational performance and renewing infrastructure. The key to our success has been management support, and investment in our own people to find the opportunities and make the improvements work.” Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare is taking a similar, roll-up-the-sleeves approach to capturing the savings at its two acute care facilities. The focus has been on much-needed lighting improvements, a systematic program of testing and re-balancing HVAC systems, and the inclusion of a state-of-the-art building automation system in both sites. While just recently completed, the results to date have been impressive with metered savings of $185,000.

Says Harold Featherston, Chief Executive, Diagnostics, Ambulatory, Planning: “We have had previous experience with bringing in energy service contractors to try and solve our problems which has not worked out. This time we are taking on the challenge ourselves.  We have partnered with our local utility companies, and are using Greening Health Care metrics to help uncover opportunities and verify the savings. To date, we are delighted with the results.”

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“Acting without listening to what the energy data is saying is like operating before the diagnosis” says Jarvis.  “Greening Health Care puts the understanding and control of energy savings in the hands of the facility staff.”

For more information visit www.greeninghc.ca or contact Brian Dundas at bdundas@trca.on.ca