Commissioning Key to Hospital’s Central Plant

Posted on April 13, 2011


I enjoy learning the details about a topic which confirm my suspicions about a certain subject; I take comfort in learning that I am not crazy. Lately, we have been working on a lot of central plants and I am not sure if this is a sign of the times or luck.  What has caught my eye has been the focus on facilities and commissioning at conferences recently. The various sessions focus on efficiency, automation in the central plant and other…tactics geared toward saving money.  And there is nothing wrong with that.

What I had not figured out until recently, and what I think many hospital are also struggling with, was the strategy behind central plant efficiency, which provides the context and process for efficiency. This is not a hit-or-miss potpourri of effort; yet, the ideas I had heard at conferences and pieced together from LEED rating systems provided only pieces of the whole building central plant picture.

A white paper by Johnson Controls, “Seven Steps to Maximizing Central Plant Efficiency”, has helped reframe my view on the central plant. The seven strategic steps put all the tactics in their proper order and place:

  1. Design of System Infrastructure
  2. Selection of System Components
  3. Application of Components
  4. Automation of System
  5. Optimization
  6. Maintenance
  7. Measurement & Verification

For me, the white paper confirmed optimization as a holistic process that  should be undertaken completely with rigor in order to achieve the savings discussed at conferences. The central plant problem is not something that can be fixed with band-aids of a little automation here, and some upgrades there. The seven steps are provided in an order of importance; without step one, step six’s value is severly diminished. And all seven steps are important to achieve targeted efficiency.

Conferences have focused so much effort on three of the last four of the seven steps—three of the least effective steps:  Measurement & Verification, Optimization, and Automation of Sytem. Historically, facilities knowledge has appeared to grow from Maintenance, what hospitals do every day. Some hospitals are now focusing on Measurement and Verification, to better calibrate decisions around energy savings and behaviors to maximize the central plant.  Or they are heading upstream to Optimization and System Automation. Where the most impact is made is at the Design, Selection and Application stages, the first three in the process. These stages help the final four to fine tune system performance.

As I blogged previously, commissioning was always a major opportunity in hospital facilities and central plant design. Likewise, commissioning was a topic in Healthcare Building Ideas recently as well. What makes commissioning so compelling as a central plan optimization tactic is that commissioning covers all seven stages. It begins with hospital goals, as defined by the owner. These goals are translated into a design and components are selected. The components are put together and then automated. As a functioning unit, the parts are optimized, maintained (after proper training) and then metrics are measured, verified and tracked.

The value of commissioning as a comprehensive efficiency tool will only grow in importance for hospitals.