For Hospitals, Some Sustainability Changes Pay Off in 2 Years

by | Jul 28, 2009

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gundersen-lutheran-aerialWhen it comes to investing in energy efficiency, hospitals and health care facilities should not sit on the sidelines, because some of the low-hanging fruits offer savings that pay for themselves in as little as two to three years.

Hospitals that undergo a retro-commissioning, or ensuring that systems are maximized for utility and efficiency, typically see a 12-15 percent energy savings over an 18-month period, said Clark Reed, Director of the Healthcare Facilities Division at Energy Star, Environmental Protection Agency.

Hospitals and health care facilities also can make a simple change to their existing equipment purchases by insisting on Energy Star-rated items, when available.

While the EPA does not yet rate medical equipment under the Energy Star program, other items, from computers to light fixtures to foodservice equipment in the cafeteria, are routinely purchased as a matter of continued cost of doing business, Reed said.

Health care providers, and members of their supply chain, can benefit from taking a comprehensive look at their operations, according to a white paper from Deloitte. “Greening and Sustainability in Health Care and Life Sciences: Implementing a Strategic Response” (PDF download) provides a range of examples.

In many areas of hospitals, from diagnostics to waiting lobbies, hospitals can swap out CRT monitors for flat panels for energy savings, said Derek Wagner, EcoMagination leader for GE Healthcare.

In general, medical equipment is beginning to use less energy, Wagner said. For instance, digital X-rays allow hospitals to do away with bulky equipment, as well as chemicals related to processing the images, plus extensive space devoted to filing.

Lamps and other lighting aspects of a facility are other good examples of quick, easy fixes, especially when switching to more efficient fluourescent lighting, he said.

While CFLs have received a lot of press in recent years, they are costly to dispose of. The improving quality and availability of LED lights – which offer 50 percent savings – offer hospitals another option.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest in LEDs, for their maintenance benefits,” Wagner said. “For instance, in parking lots, you end up changing light bulbs a lot less frequently. LEDs in parking lots also emit more even lighting, which makes parking lots easier to monitor on security cameras.”

Wagner said he expects organic light emitting diodes to make a big difference in coming years.

Gundersen Lutheran, in La Crosse, Wis., last year conducted an audit to look for quick fixes, said Jerry Arndt, Senior Vice President of Business Services.

“The most responsible thing you can do is reduce the amount of energy you need,” Arndt said. “So we looked in-house for improvements before we looked at renewables.”

Jeff Rich, Executive Director of Gundersen Lutheran, said the best time to do an audit is on the weekend.

“We found all sorts of things that were on or running that didn’t need to be running,” Rich said. “We had 300 exhaust fans around the building, many of which can be turned off for 12 hours a day. But they were running all the time.”

As another area of improvement, the audit found that 60 percent of the hospital’s energy went toward producing steam. So the hospital replaced and repaired steam traps to improve efficiency.

The hospital also applied for grants to replace light bulbs, a move that helps achieve $280,000 in annualized saving. Grants were provided by Focus on Energy, a Wisconsin government effort, through utilities.

After the audit, the hospital adjusted the schedule of heating and air to coordinate with usage of the building.

There is really no reason for hospitals and health care facilities to delay adopting some of the low-hanging fruits of energy efficiency, Arndt said.

“Most of these conservation efforts have a two-year payback,” Arndt said.

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

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