Managing your energy usage is an important step toward keeping your hospital competitive in the years ahead. Healthcare organizations are spending more than $8.3 billion on energy each year to meet their patients' needs, according to the Energy Information Administration, and chances are your organization could better control its portion of that.
If your hospital has a strategic plan for sales, marketing and projected growth, it's time to create a strategic plan for controlling your energy usage. With market trends suggesting the demand for energy resources will rise dramatically over the next 25 years — with U.S. demand for electricity expected to grow at least 40 percent over that time — there is increasing concern that energy prices could also rise dramatically, having an impact on profitability, according to the United States Department of Energy's Annual Energy Outlook and International Energy Outlook 2007.
Looking at the forecast
Forecasting your facilities' energy costs for the next two decades starts with identifying the availability and cost of your buildings' power sources.
The local utility company can provide information about their plans for increasing their fuel sources in the next 20 or 30 years and whether they expect to increase their sustainable energy through production of wind or hydroelectric power or other, non-fossil fuel production. Use of these alternative, or green power, sources may increase costs in the next few years, but would be a good choice in the long run. How the utility expects to divide these fuel sources can help you better anticipate energy prices.
The U.S. Department of Energy provides annual energy reports that can help with your forecast. Some large energy consumers are bypassing their local utilities altogether and buying natural gas from independent suppliers, which allows them to pay only for the cost of the gas and its transportation.
Predict the future
While you can't predict the future, you can rehearse to be prepared for many potential changes. These can include problems related to severe weather, penalties (or even incentives) related to energy use or greenhouse gas emissions, and swings in energy prices and supplies. Make plans to act based on what the future brings and plan to monitor signs for what may happen.
Planning to reduce
Calculating the cost-versus-savings of replacing or upgrading your building's systems can help you make some important decisions about future allotments. For instance, an HVAC professional can help you weigh the potential savings of installing a high-efficiency system, or adding a controls package against the equipment cost.
Investing in a high-efficiency HVAC system that is Energy Star compliant is taking a significant step to reduce operational costs. Replacing a less-efficient rooftop unit from the early 1990s with new, high-efficiency equipment could produce instant energy savings. Compare a typical 15-year-old, 7.5-ton rooftop unit (rated 8.5 EER and 7.5 IPLV) with new, high-efficiency equipment (rated 11.3 EER and 12.3 IPLV). Based on EER, the high-efficiency unit is 33 percent more efficient than the old unit, which can save more than $1,200 in annual electric costs. High-efficiency equipment may also qualify for energy rebates.
Buildings with a mishmash of HVAC equipment may be inefficient; an advanced control system makes it possible to tie together not only multiple HVAC units, but also control signage, parking lights, lawn sprinklers and vent hoods. A single interface can control remote monitoring, advanced diagnostics, system setup and alarm reset. Adjustable sensors save energy by allowing occupants to easily customize their heating and cooling at the touch of a button within a range specified by the facility manager. These systems may also improve comfort control with constant or variable volume zoning capabilities.
U.S. government studies conducted by the Energy Information Administration, suggest that every dollar a nonprofit healthcare organization saves on energy is equivalent to generating new revenue of $20 for hospitals or $10 for medical offices. The same studies show that a five percent reduction in energy costs in for-profit hospitals, medical offices or nursing homes can boost earnings a penny a share. From these figures, it seems that controlling future energy expenses can make a large impact on the bottom line.
Protecting HVAC productivity
Properly maintaining your facility's existing HVAC system can help protect against increased operating costs. Dirty evaporator coils, condenser coils and filters can reduce the performance of an air conditioning system, increasing energy bills and decreasing the life expectancy of the unit. Dirty blower components produce inadequate airflow, resulting in system efficiency losses, while clogged condensate drains can cause water damage and affect indoor humidity levels.
HVAC maintenance should ideally be performed at the start of the cooling season, the beginning of the heating season and in the middle of both the cooling and heating seasons. Each check should consist of:
* Replacing any worn belts
* Performing filter changes (this may need to be performed more often depending on the environment the units are operating in)
* Inspecting and adjusting belts and blower
* Inspecting and lubricating blower bearings
* Verifying heating/cooling systems are operable
* Cleaning condensate drain, trap and pan
* Checking thermostat calibration
* Verifying economizer dampers are set and operable
* Cleaning evaporator and condenser coils
Rebates and incentives
Some renewable energy projects may qualify for federal tax credits and low-interest loans, while some states offer incentives and tax credits for improving energy efficiency and using alternative energy technology such as solar and wind sources. Many utilities also provide rebates on energy-efficient products.
Check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy (http://www.dsireusa.org) for more information. A project developed and maintained by the North Carolina Solar Center and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, this source provides information on state, local, utility and federal incentives that promote renewable energy and energy efficiency. The website allows you to search by state, incentive type, energy technology and other criteria.
You may already track your company's or healthcare system's Key Performance Indicators in several areas. Using KPIs to measure the cost of energy for each square foot of your building can allow you to score your own building's performance from year to year. It can also help you see how your building compares against other, similar facilities and show you where you need to consider changes.
The Energy Star website offers a Portfolio Manager tool that allows you to rate your building's energy performance on a scale of 1 to 100 relative to similar buildings across the country. Input your building performance information and your facility will be compared to peer results gathered in the U.S. Department of Energy's national Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey.
If you would like more information about developing a strategic energy plan, an HVAC manufacturer can help you determine the factors to consider for the largest payoff. HBIDenise Ernst is director of commercial marketing with Lennox Industries. She can be reached at 972.497.6126. Healthcare Building Ideas 2008 August-September;4(6):34-45