Hospital energy use in focus

Friday, August 24, 2012

Hospitals provide essential services to society - but many hospitals consume large amounts of energy in fulfilling their mission.  Newly released data shows that large hospitals tend to consume more energy per square foot than do other commercial buildings.

The data released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration last week comes from the 2007 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS).  While 2007-vintage data may seem a bit stale in 2012, the 2007 survey results are the most recently-released from the CBECS program, providing an update to the 2003 survey.  The survey considered the consumption of electricity, natural gas, fuel oil, and district heat (steam or hot water from an outside source used for heating) by a variety of types of commercial buildings.

According to EIA, the roughly 3,040 large hospitals operating in 2007 - defined as those over 200,000 square feet - consumed 458 trillion British thermal units (Btu) of energy in that year.  Of this total energy budget, most came in the form of natural gas and electricity: 208 trillion Btu of natural gas, 194 trillion Btu of electricity, 6 trillion Btu of fuel oil, and 49 trillion Btu of district heat.

Altogether, large hospitals consumed about 5.5% of the commercial sector's total energy consumption in 2007.  On a Btu per square foot basis, the EIA data suggests that large hospitals' energy intensity exceeds that of other commercial building types, with large hospitals accounting for only 2% of commercial floorspace in 2003.

This energy intensity may not be surprising: hospitals are typically open around the clock, have high demands for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, and are home to a variety of energy-intensive activities ranging from laundry and food service to sterilization and computer servers.  Hospitals' need for a high degree of electric service reliability have led 95% of large hospitals to use energy for generating their own electricity, mostly in the form of fuel oil-fired emergency back-up generation.

At the same time, most hospitals' consciousness about their energy footprint has led them to pursue energy efficiency.  The EIA data shows that most large hospitals have energy management and conservation plans, and use energy-saving products like compact fluorescent lights or sophisticated services to reduce their consumption of electricity.

Still, the EIA data suggests that large hospitals still have room for improvement.  What more can hospitals do to reduce their energy footprint and its associated costs, while continuing to provide the services society demands?

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