Cogen an EMR Guardian

Posted on May 17, 2013

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Combined Heat and Power (CHP), also known as Cogen[erated] power, continues to become more attractive to hospitals.

First, CHP offers efficiency benefits, which translate to major utility savings over time.  Second, it is a proactive step toward compliance with increasingly restrictive energy initiatives already afoot.  Third, we know Cogen offers superior disaster preparedness due to less reliance on grid-supplied power.

Now CHP has a new benefit:  data security.  While perusing an article on data centers, which are structures that serve as massive homes for servers, and a couple conversations with healthcare facility directors, it occurred to me CHP has a lot to offer.

Hospitals are increasingly reliant on data.  The IT revolution is ongoing, especially since PPACA’s “meaningful use” of Electronic Medical Records (EMR) implementation deadline is coming up next year.  Data access, and power to keep it flowing, is a current debate topic in healthcare:  how essential is it?  How should it be categorized so it can be protected?  Is it functionally as important as an operating room or isolation room?  Is it more important?  If so, how can this be handled through design and building codes?

Hospitals may not demand enough energy to invest in their own enterprise data center, a facility dedicated to, and run by the hospital.  Yet, one selling point of data centers is their mission to provide uninterrupted power and data connectivity.  Hospitals need to be able to trust their servers will be running and accessible as long as their hospital is—and hospitals never close.  Wherever a healthcare system’s servers are housed, and most tend to be sprinkled around geographically, those spaces must become the functional equivalent of a hospital’s data center.

What do we know about data centers?  They consume a lot of power.  They generate a lot of heat.  They have controlled access.  They have redundancy to ensure continuous operation.

As mentioned, a hospital may not need the scale of 2000 to 3000 server cabinets, and not spend $5 million or more on electricity per year common for a typical data center.  Yet, hospitals need something—something more than a few electrical closets daisy-chained together.

Whatever those server-keepers look like, their power source—and 24/7 access to your EMRs—should be a strategic discussion topic.  Here is where Cogen comes in.  CHP can run off natural gas and is much less reliant on electricity from a utility.  Natural gas is much less likely to be interrupted by a hurricane or tornado.  If a healthcare system consolidates its data needs into one (or a couple) facilities, it can then set up those servers to run off CHP…or at least be backed up by Cogen power, thus providing a longer runway in the event of a grid-power disruption.  In addition, the HVAC for those spaces can be connected to more reliable CHP.

Consider:  if a data center’s cooling system stops due to a power interruption, temperatures in the server area can rise by one degree every minute, according to Michael Poleshuk, a senior data center operations director, in Architect.  Even if that is extended to one degree every hour in a smaller hospital set-up, a server meltdown is still imminent within a day or two of no power.

Energy trends are always on the move, including in healthcare.  Hospitals may want to address strategies for utility and energy management to avoid an expensive wholesale swap-out later, or worse:  a forensics discussion on what went wrong in the aftermath of the next disaster that we know is just around the corner.

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