Why California Hospitals Need to Prioritize Energy Reduction (Now)
Walt Vernon, PE, LEED AP, EDAC, FASHE
Principal, Chief Executive Officer
A few weeks ago, I was honored to be asked to serve on a new committee of the Hospital Building Safety Board (HBSB) for the state of California. The HBSB works to advise our state licensing authority, and this particular committee is focused on helping the industry to reduce its energy consumption. The committee had its inaugural meeting last Friday. This committee is timely, as several trend waves are reinforcing each other into a developing tsunami:
California, although having one of the mildest of climates in the US, and although having the most stringent of energy codes, has a HIGHER than average energy consumption for its hospitals! This at a time when hospitals are under increasing pressure to reduce their expenses. (Data courtesy of ENERGY STAR and Energy to Care).
California also has notoriously high energy costs, thus multiplying the impact of its greater than average energy consumption on the bottom line of our local healthcare industry. Indeed, in an atmosphere of cost constraints such as the one healthcare faces, NOT to eliminate save-able energy is just wasting resources better deployed into patient care.
California is facing unprecedented heat waves. These heat waves will both push energy consumption up, as well as challenge our energy infrastructure to keep up. The idea of rolling blackouts has returned, and hospitals, being high intensity energy consumers, can help ease this situation by finding economical ways to reduce energy. During the infamous rolling blackouts of the Enron-Davis years, hospitals, as well as all Californians, were able to almost immediately find operational energy savings that helped the people of the state to weather the situation.
Additional capacity constraints in California including, closing nuclear plants and gas leaks are putting additional pressure on us to reduce consumption at critical times.
We still have climate skeptics among us, thinking that science is political. But nobody can deny that the past five months have been the hottest on record, each exceeding the last, and we are on track for 2016 to be the globally hottest year on record. The second highest temperatures, of course, being those in 2015. (http://climate.nasa.gov/news/2455/)
In California, we have another troubling related problem which is drought. After what scientists call the worst drought in history for the state, our hoped-for El Niño brought only AVERAGE rainfalls instead of the soggy winter we needed. And, we appear to be headed right back, now, into another dry cycle. Energy production in California uses water (especially our hydro plants). Water transport in California (which supplies food to much of the nation) requires energy. The need for the state to reduce its energy consumption is huge.
The good news is, the sky is NOT falling!
There are a lot of things that Healthcare can do to reduce consumption and to rebut a common concern, without in any way compromising patient care. (If the rest of the country can do it, surely California, with its advanced thinking on energy, can do it too!)
The American Society of Healthcare Engineers (ASHE) has been offering healthcare organizations a free suite of tools–Sustainability Roadmap for Hospitals–to help them self-commission their buildings and reduce their energy consumption, and celebrate achievements through its increasingly popular program Energy to Care. The California ASHE chapter (CSHE), under the leadership of Devin Hugie and Dave Lockhart, has embraced the program and is running its own state-wide program to help medical facilities reduce their consumption, even having the courage to challenge the state of Texas to a showdown to see which state’s Healthcare can reduce the most energy. (Mazzetti has offices in both states, so our loyalties are strained!)
Indeed, California’s Office of Statewide Planning and Development (OSHPD) staff are eager for ideas to promote for hospitals to achieve immediate energy reductions. A Kaiser engineer presented a number of ideas that could be implemented through pilot projects, and, in probably the most encouraging development of the meeting, OSHPD agreed that it would welcome innovative energy-saving pilot projects from anyone in the state.
Innovation and Energy – let’s do it!
I have long devoted myself and my organization to helping the healthcare industry to reduce its costs through, among other things, reducing wasted energy. I care deeply about the mission of health represented by the industry, and I know that eliminating waste at all levels will contribute to the health of our people and our world. I said that Mazzetti is torn by the California-Texas competition, since we have offices in both locations. The truth behind the program, of course, is that, if we can help hospitals reduce their energy consumption and cost, no matter which state wins the competition, all of them, everyone in both states, WIN.