Energy Trends to Affect Hospitals, Part II

Posted on November 28, 2011

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See previous post “Energy Trends to Affect Hospitals, Part I”

  • Cogen power.  Cogen(erated) power is a way of creating power that captures and uses the waste heat byproduct from power generation (usually from burning). For example, in the process of generating electricity from coal or natural gas, heat is generated and typically discharged via steam through a smokestack, cooling tower, etc.  Instead of releasing that into the atmosphere, the waste heat is collected and used on site or sold for heat. Cogen is popular in Europe and Scandinavia. Though there are some scale issues to consider prior to its application, it could be a useful way to create power and stay off a grid.
  • Reclaimed Energies.  There is no catchy name for this yet, but there are growing ways of tapping into energy that would otherwise be wasted.  A previous post delved into some of these—from repurposing the excess heat from process elsewhere in the hospital (like sterilization or laundry) to converting energy from exercise equipment—many of which could be used in healthcare settings.

The above list is not an insignificant collection of ideas. Collectively, they are major shifts in what is in place in a hospital now, and what might be there in ten years or sooner. Hospitals need to get conversant with these terms and trends for a few key reasons:

  • Energy standards have a direct financial impact on ongoing operations, and should be handled with appropriate study and strategy. Energy is not a one-time cost. During design is the time to explore design and lifecycle costs. Much like sustainable design, first cost is not nearly as important as recurring costs every month and what the long-term affect of energy decisions will be.
  • Energy costs may still seem insignificant to a hospital’s overall budget; however, energy costs continue to rise faster than inflation and they are not going lower. It will only become more expensive and regulated to produce energy commercially in the U.S. Energy may comprise, say 30% of a hospital operations budget, which is only 20% of the overall cost to run the hospital—but if petroleum or electricity or natural gas doubles, triples or rises in cost 10x, it is worth knowing about ahead of time.
  • The standards are constantly revised, so the minimum requirements are a moving target. Building codes are not terribly fluid, and can take some time to adopt, but the standards themselves are getting more difficult all the time.
  • The various energy guidelines are quickly, and sometimes quietly, adopted into building codes. Adoption of new codes is routine and received without much fanfare; yet the contents may not be fully understood before they are adopted.
  • Some of the energy standards are not something that can be implemented immediately; they take time to correctly institute, which means learning now while there is time. Compliance with a new standard may not be something that fits neatly into a classic “mechanical” retrofit project; it may have far-reaching effects and involve major change as well as sophisticated consultants or engineering design. Net-zero is a perfect example of something that is not simply accomplished by decree. The owner must be prepared for the systematic differences in the building, like daylighting as the primary s0urce of light.

Some hospital administrators will not pay attention to something until it pains them in the budget. Until a building costs twice or three times as much as before, CEOs will likely not worry about ‘paper cuts’ to their expenses. However, if building code revisions push through strategies that affect MEP systems, utility costs, and maintenance monies, then it may show up on the CEO’s financial radar. Energy is a big topic and will likely only be a more worthy topic as trends become standard operating procedure in the future.

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