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Squeeze more energy efficiency out of your buildings


December 1, 2009

There’s assistance for hospitals from three new government programs

It can be difficult for facility managers to figure out just how effective their energy reduction programs are by simply comparing month-to-month use of resources such as water and electricity.

That’s because setting realistic targets can be a challenge, and there’s always the nagging question of how a hospital stacks up to others like it across the country.

But there’s assistance for you from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA Energy Star program’s new Portfolio Manager benchmarking tools can help hospitals:

  • Get a grip on resource consumption
  • Understand what can be done next to squeeze more economy out of buildings
  • Develop a plan for future investments in energy conservation

A $1 reduction of energy costs translates to $20 in revenue based on the typical hospital netting 5% profits, Clark Reed, director of the EPA’s Energy Star Healthcare Facilities Division, said in an October 1 audio conference hosted by Premier Safety Institute.

The most energy-efficient businesses use about 30% less than their competitors, Reed said, offering a first benchmark to use at your facility.

Energy Star has been developing hospital-specific tools since 1992, identifying best practices for energy reduction, but most facilities aren’t yet participating in the program.

“About 20% of healthcare organizations across the country have joined Energy Star,” Reed said, adding that about 700 facilities participate in assessing performance progress, setting goals, and creating energy reduction action plans.

However, participation in Energy Star tripled last year, he said, probably driven by rising energy costs.

“I honestly don’t know of anyone who believes that energy prices are going to be going down over the long term,” Reed said. “So increasing energy efficiency will help reduce your exposure to future price increases, and it’s good for your bottom line.”

Another reason for using the tool: Some locales require all buildings, public or private, to use the tool and disclose energy use data upon sale or lease to buyers or lessees. Check your local regulations to see whether it’s a mandate, and while you’re at it, find out whether your municipality offers financial incentives for participating in Energy Star and using the tool.

Benchmarking against other hospitals

The Portfolio Manager factors out weather and measures actual energy efficiency of a building, enabling you to establish a baseline and track your progress against those 700 hospitals in other U.S. climates, Reed said.

It yields a number from 1 to 100 that can assess a stand-alone building or a multibuilding campus. The higher its number, the less energy-efficient a building is, with 50 being the national average.

Although hospitals and medical office buildings are the most likely candidates to put into the tool, any building—such as administrative offices, warehouses, and hotels—can be benchmarked. Other buildings (e.g., clinics) can be compared to national averages for similar buildings across industries, as they—for now—are still a small group.

Older buildings can score well

It’s easy to assume that older hospitals fare poorly with energy use and that modern facilities are more energy-efficient, Reed said. However, that’s not always the case—nor is it true that urban hospitals are more efficient than their rural peers, or that it has anything to do with climate zones or patient census.

“Looking at the data tells us that those explanations would be wrong,” Reed said. “Old buildings that are managed well can outperform new buildings that aren’t.”

Although it’s not a diagnostic tool, Portfolio Manager can help identify the best investment opportunities to improve energy conservation based on what others have done, Reed said.

Reducing a hospital’s carbon footprint is a priority for many administrators based on the number of inquiries the EPA has received, Reed said. Energy Star also built emissions tracking into Portfolio Manager, based on regional power suppliers and their methods of creating energy (e.g., water, nuclear, coal).

Go to www.energystar.gov for further details.

Next: EnergySmart Hospitals

Need more ideas on how to cut energy use beyond what the Portfolio Manager offers? Another new healthcare-specific application launched by the Department of Energy is called the EnergySmart Hospital Program, which provides tools and strategies to combat energy costs at inpatient facilities.

The program’s goal is to help hospitals reduce energy consumption by 20% in existing buildings and 30% in new buildings. The program also offers guidance to facilities directors about how to sell such initiatives to administration.

“EnergySmart Hospitals is making the business case to hospital senior management that energy efficiency improvement can contribute to a hospital’s financial security,” said Pat LeDonne, director of the EnergySmart Hospital Program, who also spoke during Premier’s audio conference. “Many of our stakeholders have consistently told us that [this is] critical ... in order to advance energy efficiency within their systems.”

Over the past year, EnergySmart Hospitals published the free Advanced Energy Design Guide for Small Hospitals and Healthcare Facilities and plans a similar guide for hospitals larger than 90,000 square ft. for 2010.

The guide includes information gathered from such industry groups as the U.S. Green Building Council, American Institute of Architects, and American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

EnergySmart Hospitals’ Web site (http://buildings.energy.gov/energysmarthospitals) offers information on these programs, as well as several tools for developing long-term strategies to lower energy bills based on industry best practices.

Best practices also available

Another new Department of Energy initiative, the Hospital Energy Alliance (tinyurl.com/yh6ww6a), aims to develop new strategies in the areas of power alternatives, lighting, HVAC, medical equipment, and whole-building systems.

The Hospital Energy Alliance seeks to collect best-practice information among hospital leaders and communicate to vendors about what new energy-efficient equipment is most needed in healthcare facilities.

Editor’s note: Download the full Premier audio conference and accompanying slides for free at tinyurl.com/yja9o27.

Get started on free energy benchmarking

Participating in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Energy Star program’s new tool, Portfolio Manager, is easy:

1. Go to www.energystar.gov/benchmark, read the overview, and create a Portfolio Manager account.

2. Visit www.energystar.gov/businesstraining and listen to either the 90-minute session, “Healthcare: Rating Energy Performance Using EPA’s Portfolio Manager,” or register for live training under the same name.

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