Sep 19 2023

Automated Building Systems Turn Data into Energy Savings for Hospitals

Intelligent networked sensors enable real-time, occupancy-based energy consumption to reduce waste in hospital lighting, heating and other systems.

As health systems pursue sustainability strategies, networking has emerged as an essential element. An effective, intelligent network can facilitate connected ecosystems that leverage data, sensors and automated building systems to enhance efficiency, reduce energy consumption and support sustainability.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. healthcare buildings make up 5 percent of total commercial floor space but account for 10 percent of total commercial building energy consumption.

Residential and commercial buildings consume roughly 20 percent of total energy and generate nearly 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S., making them an excellent target for energy savings, says Kevin Carbonnier, a senior technical associate with the New Buildings Institute.

“Buildings play a huge role in sustainability,” he says.

For businesses (including healthcare), sustainability has taken on an importance beyond the fact that it’s good for the environment, says Dawn James, managing director at Deloitte Consulting. It has become a matter of maintaining a competitive advantage, retaining talent and future-proofing business models.

“By recognizing the potential of smart buildings, healthcare organizations can advance their corporate sustainability goals and stay ahead of the curve when it comes to reducing emissions and improving their bottom lines,” James says.

Intelligent networking technologies can help organizations achieve these objectives by automating the compilation and transmission of data for analysis as well as the management of connected systems. Healthcare organizations that use these technologies effectively can improve their efficiency, reduce costs and decrease waste, such as greenhouse gas emissions.

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Sensors and Connected Systems Yield Valuable Data on Energy Usage

Columbia University’s Center for Buildings, Infrastructure and Public Space identifies lighting, windows, chillers and boilers, building management systems, and renewable energy sources as key measurables for building efficiency. When organizations pair these systems with networked sensors, they can support occupancy-based energy consumption that adapts to real-time usage patterns.

For example, sensors connected by smart networks to lighting and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment could detect when employees enter an empty conference room so that lights and air turn on only when needed.

“That can have a huge impact on the hospital’s energy use,” says Tim Carr, a senior engineering consultant with Efficiency Vermont. “We often see, when a building automation system is added, an average of 5 to 15 percent of total energy savings, so it’s not insignificant.”

Occupancy-based usage is also a baseline capability, Carr notes. Healthcare organizations can increase their energy efficiency by layering other networked capabilities onto a building automation system, such as making a hospital grid interactive to automatically adjust internal temperatures based on electricity pricing, grid load and other factors.

One of the most significant advantages of smart buildings is that they make it easier for organizations to obtain granular visibility into their energy usage, which can otherwise be a challenge.

When Efficiency Vermont works with organizations to analyze their consumption patterns, smart meters often reveal information that hospital leadership weren’t aware of, says former Engineering Manager Abiodun Iwayemi.

“Sometimes, what they think is going on and what’s actually happening are two different things,” he says.

Benchmarks and Behavioral Changes Can Kickstart Energy-Efficiency

While automated building systems may deliver the most impact, healthcare organizations can also use low- or no-cost strategies, including behavioral changes, to lower their energy consumption, says Iwayemi. He notes that one Efficiency Vermont customer cut its energy usage by more than 30 percent simply by reminding employees to turn off systems that weren’t in use.

“Just having insight into what’s going on allows us to impact energy usage,” he says.

As smart networking tools increase the amount and detail of data about energy consumption, information can be a valuable tool to help organizations improve their energy efficiency. Benchmarking against similar hospitals within the same climate region is a great way to understand and improve energy consumption, says Carbonnier. The ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager is a free, interactive tool that can help companies identify energy-saving opportunities and implement best practices.

“That’s a great starting point just to get an overall picture of how your building is performing,” he says.

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