Energy Trends to Affect Hospitals, Part I

Posted on November 25, 2011


The latest technology gadgets, whether the newest smart phone or social network, are easy to digest and deal with when the time is appropriate. Unless there is a desire for the particular appliance it can be ignored, as it is not likely to unavoidably insert itself into your daily life. Yes, there are people who are not a part of the 800+ million users on Facebook, and still survive.

However, anything that can be legislated into mandatory adoption is hard to ignore. This was the case with green design. The USGBC’s LEED was a whimsical thing until local and federal regulators began requiring compliance with the sustainable building guidelines. Then property owners, developers, design and construction professionals, and organizations expecting to build quickly needed to understand LEED’s impacts and the rules of engagement.

Well, energy efficiency is next on the crash course agenda for hospital owners. Target efficiencies were an abstract concept until they became adopted as part of new construction—first as participation in LEED, and now as a matter of protocol by local municipalities.

Facilities, operations and financial directors for hospitals now find themselves trying to keep up with energy performance requirements that seem to be continuously evolving. Every year or two the bar on energy standards is raised a little more:  last year’s efficiencies become this year’s baseline.

As improved energy performance at hospitals becomes more prominent, here are some energy buzz words affecting hospitals right now:

  • LEED.  Now a comfortable topic for many on the facilities side, LEED is the most adopted sustainable building rating system, although there are competitors like Green Globes.  The USGBC revises its LEED performance requirements every few years. When that occurs, minimum performance targets are raised for both achieving points, and simply to meet baseline performance prerequisites.
  • Commissioning.  Made more visible by LEED, commissioning is a holistic assessment and measurement of a building’s energy performance. It can be done on existing facilities to create a benchmark against which future improvements can be measured; although, it is more commonly used with new construction, to measure the actual performance against the designed performance. It then helps reconcile those differences.
  • ASHRAE.  The American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air conditioning Engineers provides energy guidelines that are often adopted as local building code. ASHRAE’s latest documents are incorporating more aggressive energy efficiency standards and use LEED as a conceptual framework to more comprehensively structure a building’s energy performance.  Just recently, ASHRAE published its  “50% Advanced Energy Design Guide”, which helps take the first big step toward net-zero.
  • Net-zero.  Only a couple years ago, net-zero was a radical concept:  a building that generates as much energy on site as it consumes (thus using “net-zero” energy). A scant few buildings over 10,000 sq. ft. officially meet net-zero standards nationally, but the list is growing. Net-zero is difficult to achieve without renewable energy on site, so net-zero’s popularity will drive solar and wind energy technologies. In addition, California and other local jurisdictions have considered making net-zero a requirement for certain types of buildings as early as 2020.
  • Carbon footprint.  The carbon footprint of a building is how much fossil fuel it consumes in its operations as measured over a set period of time. National and global discussions on this topic have centered around the idea of measuring buildings or industries to find out how much carbon is used, and then require a scheduled improvement against those benchmarks over time. The carbon usage would be unitized, with each building or industry given a finite amount of carbon credits to use. Industries that consume or pollute more would need to cap their usage and purchase credits to offset their overuse against their benchmark. Industries that use less could sell or trade their carbon credits to the needy, thus the “cap-and-trade” phrase that is often associated with carbon footprint discussions.

See continuation of list in a future post, “Energy Trends to Affect Hospitals, Part II”