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.
With that old technology, the opportunity to save a lot of energy and to make and recoup costs—and to take a bite out of the green apple—is low-risk.
One of the most underutilized energy-saving tools that people don’t look at is controls. We would always say in lighting there are three ways to save energy. One is the light source—do you have the most efficient light source working? The second is the fixture, including the ballast—is what you’re using throwing out the light in the right direction and most efficiently?
The third is lighting control. Lighting control basically revolves around how you switch the light on or off or up and down. Lighting controls is probably the biggest win for a number of different spaces, and lighting controls come in a number of different fashions, like time clocks (do you need the lights on the whole time?), photo cells (can you have the lights going on and off depending on where the light is coming from?), and occupancy sensors.
When it comes to lighting, what are some ways facilities can upgrade to be more efficient and current?
I’ll give you an example. The most predominant light bulb is a 4-foot lantern. The T12s are out there and they’re horribly inefficient. The technology was invented in the 1950s. That has been upgraded to what’s called a T8. The T8s came in the ‘80s, and they came in at 32 watts versus the T12s that are 34 watts.
Now there are equivalent lamps out there today—you can move from the 32-watt to the 28-watt, or a 25 watt—and those are direct replacements. So if any facility is installing and buying 32-watt light bulbs, they’re doing themselves an injustice. It all depends on the cost of the electricity, but if I was a healthcare facility, I would mandate that every T8 lamp that’s installed is a 28- or 25-watt.
The reason why is over the life of the light bulb, for an extra dollar or two, which is what it costs for the light bulb, you can basically save over $20 worth of energy. But the adoption rate of that technology is so slow because people don’t want to pay the extra dollar or two for the light bulbs.
Is it that facilities are buying light bulbs in bulk that makes that $1 difference feel far more significant?
It’s the way that people procure. You have the maintenance staff, the procurement staff, and the facility management staff. The facility management is concerned about the P&L, how much money they can save. They’re generally not involved in the discussion. The purchasing people are paid for finding the cheapest price they can get. The maintenance staff are paid to make sure if the light bulb goes out, it gets replaced as quick as possible.
Coming back to my original statement, it’s a financial discussion. You can save an incredible amount of money just by making these little changes as you go.
You can either just pay every time you need a case of light bulbs, or you can go through the entire facility and change them all out. Now I’ll add that with moves from the 32-watt to the 28-watt, there’s a bunch of savings. And there are a lot of utilities in the marketplace that are paying rebates for that migration from old technology to new technology. And that can almost offset the additional costs in some cases.
In the second part of this two-part series with Karl Williams, he discusses the T12 phaseout program this year and how facilities can best take advantage of rebate programs. Coming soon to www.healthcarebuildingideas.com.