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Healthcare System Diagnoses Energy Flare-Ups

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With hundreds of locations sprinkled across the southern United States, a large regional healthcare system continually endeavors for medical advances and higher quality care. It's not surprising that such systems are among the most comprehensive not-for-profit organizations in the country.

For the health system's energy manager, that means heating, cooling, lighting and powering over millions of square feet of hospitals, doctor's offices, emergency departments and outpatient care facilities.

"To make sure everything around the hospitals work as expected, there's a lot of behind-the-scenes redundancy, preventive maintenance and people spending 24 hours around the clock to keep things running."

Energy costs are always secondary to reliable power and quality healthcare. But every dollar saved – whether through rate reconstruction, consolidating bills or eliminating waste – goes back into care, reducing costs that are passed on to patients. With potential rewards for smart energy management so great, the healthcare system created a council to oversee conservation efforts and work toward a five-year goal: reduce net energy consumption of hospitals by a whopping 20 percent.

"In the last three to four years, energy has become an opportunity and a buzzword here, simply because we need to find ways to lower healthcare costs," the energy manager explains.

The goal is lofty, but the team is employing a variety of methods to combat energy inefficiencies. From lighting projects to control work, retro-commissioning to fault analytics, they have deployed savings tactics paired with nimble strategies for sustaining them as the organization grows and consumes even more energy. With less than a year left to go, they have already managed to cut energy consumption by about 15 percent.

A Solution to Bring Energy Usage to Light

One of the team's guiding principles is "know your numbers," referring to the importance of data-driven decision making. A key strategy they selected to help with this is Panoramic Power® from Direct Energy Business. The device-level energy monitoring solution gives energy managers the real-time visibility necessary to find and eliminate energy waste and predict and prevent equipment failures.

"We heard Panoramic Power is the next best thing since sliced bread, but I had to see it," the energy manager says. "We agreed to try it and told Direct Energy Business that we'd love to pilot it at one of our sites."

They selected a freestanding 24/7 Emergency Department, as their first Panoramic Power site. Though the building is new, it's Energy Use Intensity (EUI) was very high, in part due to an inefficient HVAC system. The building uses two hot water boilers, two air handlers, one chiller, fans and lighting circuits. In total, the all-electric facility costs approximately $20,000 per month to power. With real-time feedback from Panoramic Power, the team would finally be able to expose where all those dollars were going.

The Value of Instantaneous Data

It took only three hours for 137 Panoramic Power sensors to be placed on the facility's high-consumption equipment. No equipment required shut down for the installation and patient care continued in the building without interruption.

"As soon as the bridge signal was set up to connect the sensors to the cloud, I almost instantaneously began to get data," recalls the health system's energy manager. "That was quite impressive to me and my mind started whirling, thinking about different things we could do with this data. I was fairly excited when we left that afternoon. I wanted to get back to my office and turn on the dashboard. I also had it set up on my phone, so I could see it from anywhere."

Within the first few days, the team spotted two major impediments to energy savings. First, why was the hot water boiler constantly running during May, when most of the building didn't require heat? And second, why was the energy consumption so erratic?

They quickly discovered answers to both questions. The HVAC system depended on 41 VAV boxes above the ceiling to condition a space by running hot water through the boxes, thereby warming the air. Only six or seven areas in the facility required heat during warm months. But warming and retaining the air temperature in those rooms still required the entire boiler system to cycle on and off. At a price tag of $7,000-8,000 per month, running the boiler during the summer was accounting for as much as 15 percent of the annual energy bill.

The team also discovered that the boiler system was cycling through its sequence continuously, which didn't allow the water temperature to reach the set point before moving to the next stage. By changing the cycling sequence to minutes, instead of seconds, the boiler system could operate in step-up mode on a consistent schedule that consumed less energy.

"In conjunction with the building automation system, Panoramic Power showed us that we were running the boiler to supply hot water to only a handful of VAV boxes. By replacing those boxes with ones that use electric strip heat, rather than hot water, we could turn the boiler completely off during the summer." Annually, that's a $35,000-40,000 savings on heat.

The energy team has been able to demonstrate so much value with Panoramic Power that they're already working on installing over 60 sensors in a second freestanding emergency department site. The team is now almost completely self-sufficient with the tool, running reports and analysis, as well as mapping sensors, a task usually left to the installation team.

"That's what makes Panoramic Power so great," the energy manager maintained. "Common people can take this tool and do wonderful things with it. I'm not an expert on electricity, but I do have a little bit of common sense and I understand facilities. That little bit of knowledge, along with a tool that can measure real-time consumption when I flip a switch or turn a dial – that's invaluable."

So when it comes to energy, it seems that Panoramic Power may be just what the doctor ordered.


Posted: June 01, 2018