Sector - Heating & Ventilation

Improving energy efficiency with a detailed plan

In 2010, a government greenhouse gas emissions survey of the public estate found hospitals were amongst the worst offenders. While things have improved dramatically since then, Jan Ponsford Director at Virtus Consult argued a lot more could still be done.

One of the best ways to cut emissions is to reduce overall energy consumption and this begins with understanding what energy is being used, what is being wasted and where savings can be easily made.

Investing in new thermostatic radiator valves will attract little interest, but more management teams need to understand that a raft of small changes, can add up to significant cuts in energy use and related costs.

Comprehensive evaluation

Every aspect of the energy efficiency equation must be assessed and every source of information, from half-hourly electricity bills to waste management policies must inform the final evaluation.

The evaluation will consider the facility’s energy spend and carbon emissions from, mechanical and electrical activities, buildings, infrastructure, land, waste, transport and workforce, focussing on three distinct areas:

Power usage – the site survey will consider metering and sub-metering by department, particularly in healthcare facilities where a huge disparity in usage can exist. The in-use performance of a building should be compared to its historical energy use or the energy use characteristics of similar healthcare facilities.

Initiatives – it’s important to look at heat recovery, use of renewables if relevant, including energy from waste, lighting systems, electrical equipment, voltage optimisation and improvements to the fabric of the building and surrounding environment.

Operational – the energy use awareness of the staff must be considered; do they share the desire to reduce use? The lifecycle maintenance, waste reduction strategies, procurement services, transport and ultimately the culture of the organisation must form part of any evaluation.

Baseline information and knowledge transfer

As expected the information needed starts with the buildings, their age, construction and condition, their occupancy profile and the plans to re-develop if appropriate.

A thorough inspection of the building fabric and its thermal properties, along with rooves, windows, doors, flooring etc., forms an important step of the final evaluation.

If no asset register is available for the mechanical and electrical systems, a thorough review of heating, ventilation, cooling and lighting systems is essential.

From design to reality

When low-energy buildings are built and occupied, there is often a gap between the predicted performance and the actual energy consumed.

One key consideration is accurate estimating of the operating hours and occupancy pattern of the building, which is unique in the case of healthcare facilities. It sets out how the operational energy can be estimated and covers lighting, heating, ventilation and cooling, along with the provision of hot water.

Crucially, it also asks designers to consider the consumption profile of lifts and escalators, small power loads, catering, server rooms and other plant and equipment, which can often be overlooked with current calculating methods.

The UK has huge talent in designing buildings to achieve PassivHaus and BREEAM certification, but there remain basic improvements possible on older buildings that will consistently deliver greater energy efficiency and relatively short pay-back periods.

Future funding or grant opportunities

Typically, the real stumbling block for NHS Energy Managers and Facilities Managers, is not what energy efficiency changes need to be made, but how they will be funded.

Funding options are assessed on a project-by-project approach that considers building type, usage, location, Trust requirements and preferences. The changes being considered will also affect the funding solutions available.

The simplest option is for Trust capital to fund the improvements, but loans from the Green Investment Bank or SALIX, which offers interest and fee free loans, are popular choices, with energy-cost savings used to pay the loan.

Salix, which provides interest-free Government funding to the public sector to improve energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions and lower energy bills, requires NHS programmes to payback within 5 years and less than £120 per tonne of CO2 over the lifetime of the project.

Salix funding covers over 100 energy efficient technologies including boilers, combined heat and power, LED and lighting upgrades, and heat recovery.

Other third-party solutions are available, which could include ‘off-balance sheet’ options like an Energy Services Company (ESCo) agreement, a Short Term Operating Reserve (STOR) arrangement, a Special Purchase Vehicles or Programme Partnership Arrangements.

Experience dictates that the best funding solution is the one that presents the least risk for all stakeholders, whilst providing the best value. It also has to meet the Trusts’ needs and satisfy legal and statutory requirements.

Implementation follows evaluation

Hospitals are complex buildings with unique energy requirements. They are occupied every minute of the day, by a lot of people, many of whom are unwell and potentially at risk from poor environmental conditions.

This situation requires control of the buildings’ thermal environment and indoor air quality, especially those spaces used for treatment and convalescence, which can require large amounts of energy.

The value lies in balancing the time taken for the expected savings to cover the initial expenditure on implementing the changes. This requires a more nuanced and experienced approach, but the savings can be immediate and significant.

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