At a national level, fingers often point toward healthcare as being among the worst offenders in energy usage. However, oftentimes within the walls of those facilities doing the most damage, it’s difficult to pinpoint places where immediate solutions can be implemented or to initiate a culture change among decision-makers whose buy-in must first be gained.
Karl Williams, vice president of energy solutions for electrical distributor Rexel Inc., spoke with Jennifer Kovacs Silvis, Editor-in-Chief of Healthcare Building Ideas, about some of the areas where hospitals are making the biggest mistakes, how to identify and launch energy-savings programs, and where the rubber will meet the road in terms of no longer avoiding change.
Here, please find the first part of this two-part discussion.
Q: Where are some common places hospitals are making mistakes when it comes to energy efficiency?
We would look at the healthcare market and hospitals, and say, “What is the difference between a hospital and a general commercial building? They’re both made of brick and concrete, are multi-story, and built on a large area.” It would come down to the fact that hospitals run 24/7, whereas most facilities don’t. What that means is the energy usage of hospital facilities is probably two to three times what a commercial facility’s is.
In terms of looking at hospitals—where they’re at and why they’re on the planet—they have healthcare providers, which for all of us is a good thing. But on the energy side of things, the energy budget or the drive to upgrade lighting or the electrical load on the entire facility or facilities is competing with the budget to buy a new MRI machine.
Without a plan, without a stick in the ground in terms of where they want to hit and what they want to achieve over the next “X” number of years, then they haven’t really got a plan.
So what are we trying to achieve? For them, the reason energy efficiency has taken off in this country is the government, and the states and the utilities, are putting sticks in the ground and saying we’re going to have 20% reduction, 50% reduction, 80% reduction, or we’re going to have, in terms of cogeneration and using renewable energy, 50% of our energy come from this.
The second area where hospitals differ from commercial buildings is that they’re in the building for a considerably long time, compared to a commercial building where leases are prevalent and clients and tenants can come and go. With a hospital, once you build it, it’s going to be there 50 or 100 years.
So people can take a longer-term view in what they’re trying to achieve in those spaces than you can if you’re in a commercially leased operation. Most of the energy efficiency initiatives that go off in the United States are driven by pure financial dollars. So you can put your plaque at the front saying you’re a green hospital, but the bottom line is these are commercially viable operations that need to save money.
Where can healthcare facilities start righting some of their energy usage mistakes?
If you want to start an energy efficiency initiative and you want to move toward energy-efficient products, sometimes the culture is hard to change. For example, the culture of occupancy sensors—when occupancy sensors first came out, people were waving their arms in the air. And that lingers, why we don’t want to do that, or dimming, or new types of lighting. Or even fluorescent lighting had a bad reputation or a long time.
If you want to start going green, go to non-essential areas where you can try some new technology.
Part of the areas we think are applicable to the hospital market is in parking garages or exterior lighting. You can upgrade that component—first of all, it’s running 24/7 and second of all, a lot of the technology that’s being used, the lighting and controls technology, will be significantly out-of-date because nobody’s ever gone and looked at it.