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Healthy returns for hospitals

15/03/2011

A more efficient approach to energy consumption will allow hospitals to put more of their tightly contested budget into other priority areas.

In hospitals, a steady supply of power and water that continues 24 hours a day, 365 days a year is literally a matter of life and death. The intense level of round-the-clock care that must be provided to patients—as well as trends like increasing digitisation—mean that hospitals are notorious energy guzzlers.

A 2006 Department of Human Services study found that Victorian public hospitals were responsible for 60 percent of total public energy consumption in that state. Another study suggests that hospitals consume more than twice as much energy as offices—and more than six times as much water! With statistics like this—and spiralling energy prices—it’s not surprising that hospitals are under pressure to reduce energy costs and improve sustainability in areas like water use, ventilation and waste management. The good news is that experts suggest there are enormous benefits—financial as well as environmental—for hospitals that are willing to take a serious look at saving energy.

“Sustainability is not just about how nice it is to have a green building, but rather it’s about fiscal responsibility,” says Robin Mellon, Executive Director of the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA). “It’s about a hospital building performing well for its whole lifetime, not just the next few years.” He notes that hospitals face “enormous challenges” around energy efficiency. Not only do they have to operate continuously, with large amounts of machinery and advanced technology, but they also have rigorous standards on everything from air filtration and temperature to cleanliness. “Energy and water costs make up between one and three percent of the annual operating costs of a major hospital. That may not sound like a lot, but it actually represents about 15 percent of its profit. Moreover, when you are talking about millions of dollars, any reduction means significant savings that can be spent elsewhere.

“And most water and energy initiatives can provide payback periods of around eight years,” he adds. But Robin says that the savings go well beyond direct spending on energy. “Improving energy efficiency through passive measures like natural ventilation, more use of natural materials and more exposure to daylight, leads to improved staff productivity. It also leads to improved patient recovery times and reduced pain medication rates. “All of these amount to huge dollar savings. So energy consumption is really the tip of the iceberg.”

Measure to manage

 
Tools are being developed to assist those in the industry to measure and improve their energy performance. NABERS (the National Australian Built Environment Rating System) is developing a hospital-rating program to measure the environmental performance and encourage more sustainable hospitals. It is due for release early in 2011.

The GBCA released a Green Star Healthcare rating tool in 2009. Although so far no projects have received a star rating with the tool, five have registered for accreditation.
 
Robin Mellon points to a growing awareness of green building principles in the healthcare industry, particularly in the public sector, both in terms of minimum requirements and what best practice can provide.
 
“Health Departments are getting advice about whether to use formal ratings, such as Green Star, or to establish their own priorities. For example, South Australia has committed to achieving Green Star rating on specific projects. “In the case of private hospitals, there is more marketing advantage associated with a Green Star rating. So advertising these achievements is perhaps a bit more important to them.”

He emphasises the importance of individual leadership, for example on hospital boards, in helping institutions in taking these issues seriously. “The simple message I want to communicate is that what gets measured gets managed. That’s the same whether you are talking about waste or water or lighting or any of these things. If you know what and how much energy you are using, then you can then look at how to improve it from year to year.” He says that the Green Star healthcare tool, can be used as a basic checklist, whether at retrofit or new-build stage.
 
“We would love to see people going for best practice. While it’s completely understandable that people say: ‘if these improvements are going to cost us one percent—we could spend that on so many extra hospital beds’. But if you take the long-term view, and see that you’re setting the building up to run more efficiently and economically across its whole lifetime, then you will realise that the sustainable initiatives can pay for themselves.”

Clean and green

 
When hospitals do make the decision to install system-wide energy efficiency programs and materials to reduce energy consumption, engineers from O’Donnell Griffin and Haden are ready to help.

“We can do the job,” says Tony Gleeson, Power Generation Manager for O’Donnell Griffin. “We’re able to help hospitals and other healthcare facilities put in a complete trigeneration system. That includes installation of generators and all the associated auxiliary equipment including exhaust systems, fuel systems, and ventilation systems.”

Tony says that a trigeneration approach is both greener and more sustainable. “It uses natural gas, which is a cleaner fuel source. And it uses waste heat from the generation to run chillers and other equipment, so it is also more sustainable and efficient.
 
The resources and expertise of both Haden and O’Donnell Griffin synchronise well together, he says. “That means we can offer a turnkey solution on trigeneration across the whole project. The companies offer a high degree of knowledge and experience: O’Donnell Griffin on generation and electrical systems, Haden on ventilation and cooling,” he adds.

For more information about how O’Donnell Griffin and Haden can help your healthcare facility to improve it’s energy efficiency, contact Alan Timmins, General Manager - Health on +61 434 562 199.

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