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Getting started with energy management for hospitals

By Dan Arant / Special to Healthcare Facilities Today
July 1, 2019

Hospitals will spend half of their budget on energy consumption.1 That’s more than $10 billion each year.2

This seems natural. Patients and staff depend on the energy resources to power the very facilities and equipment that allow them to work and heal. Because of this, most healthcare organizations treat their utility budgets as fixed costs, pay the bills and move on. With this approach, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in savings are left on the table. The reality? Energy is a controllable cost.

With the fast pace, always-on nature of healthcare organizations, it may feel impossible to find easy ways to save on energy. But there’s a shift occurring within the industry where facilities are starting to implement initiatives around energy management to save resources and be more focused on sustainability. This is all accomplished through increased awareness and better access to data. 

Let’s look at where you can start.

5 Cs of Energy Management

Managing energy is a cyclical process that rewards consistency. To that end, these 5 Cs of energy management are a good framework to aid the facility/energy manager in creating a simple, strategic energy reduction plan.

1. Clarity

The best way to get started is to better understand where you are. Your goal here is to be able to understand the “good, bad and ugly” regarding your energy trends. You should be able to answer a few basic questions, like: Are you paying the right amount of money on your bills? How do you know? Do you know where your energy dollars are going? Again, how do you know? 

At minimum, you should be able to duplicate the charges on each of your utility bills using some type of centralized system (i.e., energy management software). You should also be able to benchmark your facilities. Benchmarking is a simple method of identifying outliers within your facility portfolio. Lastly, it’s equally as important to note what data you don’t have. Do you need visibility into 15-, 30- or 60-minute demand interval data? Are you familiar with your building’s BAS (building automation system) control set points and schedules? This type of clarity will serve you well as a kickstart.

Action Items:

• Organize and track your utility bills in a central database

• Work with a utility representative, consultant or software to review your energy rates for each facility

• Benchmark your facilities

2. Culture

ENERGY STAR® says that of the 30 percent of energy an average commercial building wastes, 10 percent could be saved by implementing basic improvements and behavioral changes at little or no cost.3 And this often begins with a culture shift.

Energy management can’t be done alone – it requires everyone’s effort. When you can find and empower a team of staff and stakeholders who are passionate about conservation, you will multiply your savings efforts. This is critical as you start implementing energy-saving programs and campaigns.

Action Items:

• Find energy stewards across your organization (i.e. create “green teams”)

• Empower these energy stewards to lead as well (ex. assign quarterly walk-throughs, newsletters and memos to be driven by others) 

3. Compliance

Linking energy efforts to compliance may be another way to elevate the projects you put into place. Compliance with various conservation standards and protocols yields abundant fruit – great brand awareness and positive publicity for your organization, increased patient satisfaction, extended asset life and reduced energy costs to name a few. Use your energy management data for compliance reporting, setting big goals and working toward them. 

Action Items:

• Determine what energy data and reports are needed for compliance

• Establish a regular cadence for reports to be pulled and shared to show progress and ways to improve

4. Cost Avoidance

The next step is to measure, verify and report on the success of capital projects and energy conservation measures. This is where I see most organizations fail – either due to lack of knowledge, resources or both. One of the best ways to get funding for projects is to show the success and savings of past initiatives. It’s all about the momentum. You should be able to communicate (at any time) to your board and not only show reduction in use, but also translate that to dollars saved.

This provides confidence and validation in your energy projects to decision makers as you start to plan and get support for future projects. The data can also guide you toward which projects are more effective than others, or what should be your next energy-saving project.

Action Items:

• Establish a baseline year so you can compare data pre- and post-project

• Normalize the data for multiple variables (ex. weather, occupancy, square footage changes, etc.)

5. Communication 

As a continuation of the point above, be transparent around your energy programs with stakeholders to get their buy-in. This includes your peers, as well, not just your board and administration. Translate your savings into meaningful measurements, like “the savings from this project was X, and that’s the equivalent of Y new staff or “the savings from this project will allow us to do Z.” Increasing patient satisfaction is the responsibility of every member of your healthcare organization, so make sure to communicate how energy reduction plays a role. 

Action Items:

• Establish a regular cadence of communication with necessary stakeholders (ex. in monthly meetings or automated reports emailed to them weekly or monthly)

• Document standard operating procedures – things like “5 things to do before you leave your office each day and on Friday” or “These are summer and winter temperature set points”

Taking the first steps

It can be overwhelming to think of all the possibilities, so it may help to break it down and focus on the low-hanging fruit first. These are the low- to no-cost projects or energy conservation measures.

Some popular energy-saving initiatives in hospitals include:

  • Scheduling controls- Optimize your HVAC, BAS and other controllable equipment by scheduling temperature set points and schedules.

  • Utility bill auditing- Work with your utility representatives, deploy software or hire a consultant to help review rate schedules, identify anomalies and mitigate outliers. 

  • Lighting projects- This may include automating your lighting system or converting to LEDs.

  • Preventive maintenance- Performing regular, preventive maintenance can help you extend the life cycle of your assets, as well as ensure peak energy efficiency. Preventive, or scheduled maintenance, is one of the best low-cost measures and should be a non-negotiable for any facility or energy manager.

Start with technology 

When you start with a system designed for energy management, you start ahead. There are many options for software that ties into your maintenance or operations management system to provide powerful data on your current energy use and help in discovering where you can save more effectively. 

"In healthcare, saving energy is becoming a bigger and bigger deal, and it’s really hard to be able to validate energy savings,” says Braden Witt, Lead Mechanic at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. “Being able to monitor that raw data gives us that ability with a few mouse clicks to look at 2015 compared to 2019 without having to shuffle paper, spreadsheets or pivot tables. [Utilizing energy management software] helped us lower the cost of rolling out some of our energy initiatives.”

It’s critical to have a way to benchmark your progress, as well as monitor energy-related KPIs (key performance indicators). Energy management software can provide unprecedented clarity into utility bills, measure and validate energy projects, and serve up analytics and benchmarks across your facilities and industry as a whole.

This type of technology can help you get the full picture of what’s possible with energy conservation and time-saving ways to share your greater impact on your hospital, patients, organization and even community.

Not only will improved energy practices help you save, but they can also help boost your brand and reputation with sustainability as a priority. 

Now is the time to better manage energy so you can save, elevate improvements and make an impact that lasts. 

Dan Arant is PEM: Senior Solutions Consultant for Dude Solutions.

1 Carl Weinschenk, “Hospital Energy Costs are Growing – But Can Be Managed,” Energy Manager Today. https://www.energymanagertoday.com/hospital-energy-costs-are-growingbut-can-be-managed-0122434/ 

2 “Healthcare Energy Reduction & Efficiency”, Premier Safety Institute. http://www.premiersafetyinstitute.org/safety-topics-az/energy/healthcare-energy-reduction-efficiency/ 

3 “Improve energy use in commercial buildings,” ENERGY STAR. https://www.energystar.gov/buildings/about-us/how-can-wehelp-you/improve-building-and-plant-performance/improveenergy-use-commercial

 

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