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Reducing Energy Waste in Medical Clinics

Running a healthcare facility is a costly endeavor. From hospitals providing 24/7 care to outpatient facilities that operate highly specialized equipment, public health is a major energy consumer. According to the EPA, inpatient healthcare is the second-largest commercial energy user in the United States, spending over $6.5 billion annually on energy expenses.  

In a typical healthcare facility’s budget, a substantial 40% of revenue goes towards facility overhead, and energy waste can drive up these expenses considerably. Any reduction in energy costs allows healthcare providers to allocate those savings into more pressing needs such as upgrading equipment, research and development, and improving the quality of patient care. By adopting energy efficiency practices and implementing strategic upgrades, hospitals and other healthcare facilities can reduce energy expenses while contributing to more sustainable operations. 

The Impact of Energy Waste in Healthcare

While hospitals and medical clinics only account for 4% of commercial buildings, they account for 9% of the country’s energy consumption. Space heating and ventilation are among the biggest contributors to healthcare energy consumption followed by lighting, specialized equipment, and culinary operations such as cooking, refrigeration, and water heating. All of these operations are essential to the comfort and safety of patients and employees, however these always-on building systems are rife with opportunities for inefficiency and energy waste. 

Outdated lighting, medical equipment, and appliances consume excess energy for basic functions, often failing to meet modern demands. Furthermore, HVAC systems overextend their equipment when attempting to keep a comfortable temperature in a leaking, inefficient ventilation system. Energy-intensive healthcare facilities can save substantially by adopting energy efficient practices, prioritizing regular maintenance, and implementing strategic upgrades within their facility. According to a peer-reviewed study, if hospitals nation-wide adopted efficiency programs to reduce energy waste, the healthcare sector could save up to $15 billion within 10 years. Below are five main areas where efficiency measures can be implemented to improve operations, reduce expenses, and enhance patient comfort.

5 Opportunities to Reduce Medical Energy Waste

1. Efficient LED lighting systems

One of the easiest ways to reduce energy waste is by upgrading the lighting system. Light emitting diode (LED) technology uses up to 90% less energy than traditional incandescent light bulbs and lasts up to 25 times longer. Due to their high efficiency and extended lifespan, LED lighting is becoming an industry standard, reducing maintenance and replacement costs while providing a better quality of illumination. 

In hospitals and clinics with 24 hour operations, reducing energy waste from lighting systems can lead to significant cost savings with a short return on investment. Furthermore, LED lighting systems are highly compatible with smart management technologies, enabling the installation of occupancy sensors, and lighting schedules to further optimize lighting use. Implementing LED lighting not only contributes to the sustainability of a medical facility but also translates to significant cost savings over time.

2. Optimizing HVAC systems

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are the largest energy consumer within healthcare facilities, accounting for just over 30% of inpatient healthcare energy consumption. Maintaining a comfortable environment for patients and staff is vital, however there are ample opportunities to improve HVAC efficiency through strategic upgrades, routine maintenance, and mindful usage. Thorough routine maintenance by a qualified HVAC technician is a key strategy for ensuring operational efficiency. By scheduling routine maintenance, your HVAC technician keeps all equipment properly calibrated and can identify minor issues or ventilation leaks before they become costly repairs. 

Consider installing programmable thermostats with additional smart features like zone heating or scheduling. Smart features enable building management to adjust temperature settings for buildings or departments based on occupancy or operating hours, ensuring patient and staff comfort while reducing energy consumption. The benefits of an efficient HVAC system extend beyond comfortable temperatures. Efficient high-ventilation systems also reduce the likelihood of airborne illnesses and infections – a necessary endeavor to ensure patient health and safety.

3. Sustainable and efficient facility upgrades 

Improving your facility’s building envelope and making mindful choices when upgrading equipment and appliances also contributes significantly to reducing consumption in medical clinics. Inefficiencies in building structure contribute to energy waste through heat loss, resulting in higher utility bills and excess strain on the building’s HVAC system. Common spaces that should be monitored for improvement include windows, doors, insulation, and roofing. Sealing any cracks or blemishes supports better heat retention, providing a comfortable atmosphere without cold, drafty spaces. Opt for energy-efficient doors, windows, roofing, and insulation to further enhance energy efficiency.

Energy Star is the government-backed energy efficiency certification created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), guaranteeing that products with this label meet stringent energy performance standards. When approaching renovations and appliance upgrades, seek out equipment or building materials with the Energy Star logo for high-performing products that reduce energy consumption.

4. Implementing a smart energy management system

One of the most important ways to reduce energy waste in a large healthcare system is by regularly monitoring and assessing energy consumption. Energy management systems (EMS) create a singular interface to monitor all of your building’s vital systems. The consolidated EMS interface simplifies energy management by monitoring energy consumption in real time, providing immediate alerts to potential building issues and identifying spikes in energy usage. 

Advanced EMS solutions offer flexibility with the option to integrate renewable energy and storage systems, providing greater efficiency and security – especially during emergencies and adverse weather conditions. The actionable insights from a robust EMS empower data-driven decision-making, resulting in continuous improvements to energy conservation practices. By implementing an EMS, your building’s energy performance will improve drastically, resulting in lowered overhead costs as well as a more sustainable and secure facility.

5. Encouraging employee engagement and education

Energy efficiency and conservation are a collaborative effort. Daily operations and human habits play a crucial role in determining energy usage. Incorporating employee engagement and training as part of your energy efficiency initiatives directly influences these habits, fostering a more energy-conscious workplace by creating collective goals. You can further contribute to employee participation by rewarding and celebrating outstanding conservation efforts among staff.

Beyond singular training and engagement initiatives, consider implementing a sustainability task force. Creating a formal sustainability task force transforms energy efficiency into an ongoing endeavor, ensuring that progress is monitored, celebrated, and consistently improved upon.  Having a dedicated sustainability team creates the foundation for continuous improvement, leading to financial savings as well as a more environmentally-conscious medical facility. 

The Financial Challenges of Healthcare Efficiency Initiatives

Renovations, retrofits, and smart technology are expensive investments, especially in a large-scale healthcare system. Upfront costs are often the biggest hurdle to adopting energy efficiency solutions, and medical facilities have limited budgets to invest in efficiency endeavors.  Fortunately, there are a variety of financial resources available to offset these costs. Hospitals and healthcare organizations can leverage federal grants, tax credits, and innovative financing options to make energy efficiency solutions more feasible.

Hospitals and other healthcare organizations can take advantage of federal programs such as the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (CPACE) fund or those available through the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE), which provide considerable financial support for energy efficiency initiatives. Healthcare organizations can also choose an Energy Saving Performance Contract (ESPC), in which an energy service company coordinates the installation and maintenance of efficiency improvements that are paid back through the associated energy savings. Regardless of the improvement, there are a variety of financial opportunities to support conservation efforts.

Substantial Savings at UPMC by Improving Energy Efficiency

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) is one of the country’s largest nonprofit healthcare systems incorporating 20 hospitals and 400 outpatient care clinics as well as a mix of rehabilitation, retirement, and long-term care facilities. In 2008, the UPMC’s annual energy expenses were approaching $100 million. In an effort to reduce this major expenditure, the UPMC partnered with the Department of Energy (DOE) to implement an energy efficiency overhaul and develop a comprehensive energy management training program. By 2010, UPMC established an official Corporate Energy Department to oversee ongoing efficiency projects.

The energy-saving initiatives implemented at the UPMC included a computer management program to automate power settings, creating a routine HVAC maintenance schedule, retrofitting ventilation systems, and adjusting lighting systems and practices. The new computer management system alone saves UPMC more than $500,000 annually. Furthermore, the new HVAC maintenance schedule saves the healthcare system about $2 million annually. Today, UPMC’s powerful Corporate Energy Department has more than 50 projects in planning stages, 10 currently under construction, and a $4 million annual budget to address energy conservation goals.

Invest in Energy Efficiency Today for Cost Savings Tomorrow

Tackling energy waste in the healthcare sector is not only a financial imperative but a crucial step towards sustainability and improved patient care. From upgrading lighting to optimizing HVAC systems and embracing sustainable facility upgrades, there are plentiful opportunities to reduce energy waste and improve efficiency. Implementing an energy management system and creating a program that fosters employee engagement creates a comprehensive approach to improving energy performance. The abundance of financial support through federal grants, tax credits, and ESPCs further encourage the adoption of energy saving initiatives. As one of the largest energy consuming industries, the healthcare sector has the potential to pave the path towards energy efficiency, financial savings, and a more sustainable future. 

If you would like to take a proactive step towards reducing your healthcare facility’s overhead, consider contacting a commercial energy broker, like Integrity Energy. As one of the country’s leading energy brokerages, we have more than 10 years of experience helping unique businesses find the most cost-effective energy contracts on the market. Create a comprehensive plan to reduce energy waste and lower costs by requesting a free quote today.