How Modeling Can Help You Increase Your Facility’s Energy Efficiency

By Neil Maldeis

Healthcare facility managers are constantly looking for ways to reduce energy consumption, manage operating costs and improve the physical environment of care so their hospitals can deliver better patient outcomes and provide a better, more comfortable and productive workplace for caregivers and staff.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration says that hospitals typically use more than twice the energy per square foot as the average commercial building, making healthcare a target-rich environment for facility teams looking to improve energy efficiency. As a result, energy efficiency has been elevated on most healthcare organizations’ to-do lists as organizations strive to do more with less.

Many hospitals are embracing high-performance building technologies and operating practices to make energy efficiency a priority when they begin new building projects or renovate existing facilities.

The incremental expense of choosing more energy-efficient design, construction and operating practices has gone down. In fact, the U.S. Green Building Council says the “green premium” for making energy-efficient choices has all but disappeared, ranging from nothing at all to around 6 percent. Meanwhile, the council says that high-performance buildings use 20- to 30-percent less energy and cost as much as 50-percent less to operate over their occupied life than standard buildings, yielding an attractive return on investment for building owners and operators.

Advancements in building modeling and analysis software have made it easier than ever for facility teams and their energy industry partners to compare the long-term impact of various choices, conduct “what if” analyses, choose operating parameters and make decisions about the energy efficiency measures they choose to implement.

Improved Building Modeling Capabilities Drive Decision-making

Building modeling and analysis software has come a long way since its introduction during the energy crisis of the early 1970s, and the science of modeling continues to advance. Today’s most advanced software applies techniques recommended by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and meets the requirements of the U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building rating system.

Building designers are able to make better choices when it comes to aligning building system capacity with the hospital’s anticipated load requirements. For example, the software can consider a wide range of design, climate, building envelope, utilization schedules, site orientation and other variables to establish peak heating and cooling loads. This enables the designer to better specify the required capacity for heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and other mechanical systems to ensure that the facility is able to create and maintain a safe and comfortable environment for building occupants.

Modern design and analysis tools enable users to simulate the design features of the actual hospital building early in the decision-making process. Particularly valuable in the healthcare environment is the ability to recognize and accommodate the need to maintain specific environmental conditions in different units of the hospital. For example, the software can evaluate the unique temperature, ventilation and air pressure requirements of a surgical suite compared with those of an isolation ward, patient room, lobby or cafeteria.

Software Aids Evaluation of Energy Efficiency Measures

Modeling software also enables users to evaluate various energy efficiency measures and determine which make the most sense and which provide the most attractive return on investment over time.

Today’s advanced tools enable facilities teams and their energy-industry partners to use net present value (NPV)-based cost analysis. Compared with the simple payback view of return on investment, NPV provides a more realistic picture of the total savings that energy conservation measures will generate over a hospital building’s decades-long occupied life. The total lifecycle approach is a critical element of the high-performance hospital concept.

Sophisticated algorithms can model the impact of a wide range of mechanical equipment options, ranging from chilled water systems and boilers to advanced technologies such as thermal storage, heat recovery, geothermal and cogeneration. In addition, the software can determine the projected impact on energy costs by choosing different energy types, utility providers and rate options.

Particularly valuable to facility management teams is the software’s ability to simulate control strategies, such as optimum start/stop, temperature or static pressure setpoint reset, humidification, night purge, fan cycling, demand limiting and equipment sequencing. These simulations can identify no-cost or low-cost energy conservation measures that can be implemented quickly by reprogramming the hospital’s building automation system.

Modeling software also can generate reports that make it easy for users to compare multiple alternatives. The reports also can be used to demonstrate compliance with ASHRAE and other standards and LEED guidelines.

Modeling and analytics capabilities also are critical tools used in energy audits in existing buildings. ASHRAE says that a well-conducted Level II or Level III energy audit can identify measures to reduce energy consumption by as much as 40 percent, paying for itself many times during a hospital’s long service life. Hospitals often work with a certified energy engineer or energy services company to conduct an effective energy audit with the goal of determining where, when, why and how energy is being used and identify, prioritize and implement energy efficiency measures.

Emerging analytical software tools that use historical and real-time interval utility data are available that can accelerate the audit process by providing a snapshot that gives energy engineers the data they need to visualize where energy is being wasted. This data is used to inform a targeted physical inspection of the facility to identify improvement opportunities.

Regardless of the approach taken, it is clear that healthcare facility managers will continue to be challenged by their organizations to do more with less, including less energy. Advanced modeling and analytical software is a powerful tool for identifying energy efficiency measures and for making informed decisions where energy is concerned.

About the Author

Neil Maldeis, professional engineer and Association of Energy Engineers certified energy manager, is energy solutions engineering leader for Trane, a global provider of indoor comfort solutions and services and a brand of Ingersoll Rand. Maldeis is responsible for the technical development, support and review of performance-based contracting solutions and activities on a national basis. He has more than 30 years of experience as a mechanical/project engineer in the building construction and energy conservation fields.