Four reasons to modernize a hospital’s electrical power distribution system

By James Stacy / Special to Healthcare Facilities Today
October 26, 2017

Creating the safest possible healthcare facility is as much about having highly reliable building operations as it is medical resources to adequately treat patients. For a healthcare facility to run optimally, reliable power is an absolute necessity. 

Unplanned downtime is simply not an option when life and death are on the line. However, many of today’s hospitals are facing the challenge of an aging electrical infrastructure in need of frequent repair. With tightening budgets, increasing financial pressure and a growing lack of space, hospital managers need equipment that is safe, small in footprint, low in cost and easy to maintain. In addition, they need current technology that incorporates communication capabilities, enabling 24/7 monitoring to help ensure uptime.

These challenges can be solved through an asset modernization strategy that enables healthcare facilities to meet growing electrical capacity and reliability needs while also achieving cost and ease of use goals. While many operations personnel may be hesitant to deploy a full equipment replacement program, the benefits resulting from an upgrade will far outweigh the initial out of pocket costs. In addition, in many cases, equipment modernization can be absorbed as an operational expense, versus a capital one – making it easier for operations management to ‘make the case for modernization’ with executive staff.

Let’s look at some of the key challenges today’s healthcare facility staff face and the benefits provided by an upgraded electrical power distribution system.

On site staff support

With tightening budgets, increasing pressure for low overhead and high value, many hospitals and healthcare facilities are unable to support having a dedicated electrical engineer on staff who can conduct regularly-scheduled, proactive maintenance on equipment. Instead, following a more reactive model, healthcare facility operators will contract a third-party provider to come in only after a problem arises. This strategy introduces numerous risks, including increasing the potential for unanticipated equipment failure and outages. Modernizing power distribution equipment will mean less visits from third party electrical contractors – saving the hospital time and money. 

Maintenance needs

Traditional, older medium voltage switchgear has an average maintenance lifecycle of every one to three years, and frequent maintenance of electrical systems means frequent downtime for necessary medical equipment. New medium voltage switchgear technology can dramatically reduce this with a maintenance lifecycle of ten years, lowering the total cost of ownership and increasing system reliability.  More importantly, it significantly reduces exposure for electrical workers. 

In addition, reduced maintenance requirements help take the human error factor out of the equation, removing the potential risks of damage during the job. Think of it like a car:  an engine may work after a mechanic takes apart the entire thing and attempts to put it back together, but there is always a possibility that it’s not rebuilt properly. Hospitals can mitigate this further by hiring only qualified service personnel. 

Limited space

Space is often a premium in healthcare facilities Modern medium voltage switchgear solutions have a significantly smaller footprint than models created five years ago or more, meaning hospitals and other facilities have more space for other necessary equipment. Having more space around the switchgear equipment itself provides easier access for maintenance personnel which helps reduce the potential for an accident. Finally, the smaller footprint of updated equipment also lends itself to easily retrofit into existing spaces.  

Safety first 

Patients and staff should always feel confident that they are in a safe facility when they enter a hospital. A reliable power distribution solution is necessary to ensuring all electrical equipment throughout the facility is running smoothly and safely.

New technology in the U.S. offers enhanced safety features for medium voltage switchgear. Shielded Solid Insulated Switchgear, or 2SIS, uses solid insulation made from silicon, resin or elastomer and coated by a grounded conductive layer that wraps around the switchgear’s live parts to eliminate the risk of arcing

Since each bus bar is separated by the insulation, 2SIS inherently prevents them from interacting, unlike typical switchgear, which uses air to insulate between the live electrical components. With this traditional design, when the environment degrades – such as when dust or dirt (or even rodents) get into the switchgear – faults could easily occur. This frequently meant more maintenance and more outage risk. The Shielded Solid material in updated medium voltage switchgear solutions reduces the likelihood of the conductors faulting due to a poor environment, limiting system outages.  

New technology’s impact on healthcare

Modern switchgear technology could have a significant impact on the healthcare industry. 

Many concerns will be assuaged by upgrading the main source of power distribution in a healthcare facility. Personal safety, patient comfort and success, maintenance needs, budget and space could all improve with the confidence that the facility is operating properly. Before long, all healthcare facilities will have replaced the outdated switchgears many healthcare facilities are getting by on. 

James Stacy is the director of Offer Management U.S. Energy Business for Schneider Electric.

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