June 2010

28 June 2010

The Fifth Estate

The healthcare sector is the monster of sustainability, using vast quantities of water and energy, day and night. And it will stay that way until there is a major commitment from government to provide incentives to the sector, including funding and resources to address its inefficiencies industry experts say.

According to a recent report by consultants Davis Langdon hospitals are among Australia’s most complex and most energy-intensive facilities, using at least twice as much energy per square metre as commercial office buildings (others claim it is close to 10 times) and around six times as much water.

Similar figures have been gathered in other countries with data from the United States Department of Energy showing that healthcare uses approximately four per cent of all energy consumed in the US and that one average sized US hospital emits approximately 18,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually.

One of the main problems in addressing this massive consumption is that the usual drivers for sustainable refits, such as tenant retention and increasing the building’s value, do not really apply to hospitals, particularly major publicly owned facilities.

But according to construction consultants Davis Langdon there is growing recognition that the rationale for green healthcare facilities encompasses not just economic advantage, but also improved patient outcomes, reduced medication costs, reductions in cross-infection rates, better staff health and reduced staff turnover, and community benefit through decreased environmental impacts.

“In response to this, expenditure on sustainability has grown by 2-2.5 per cent of total construction costs on most major hospital projects over the last five years. This is likely to increase as health departments continue their push towards more sustainable buildings,” Davis Langdon says in its report.

Moves to address the sustainability issues of healthcare facilities are slowly emerging. Last year the Green Building Council of Australia introduced the first healthcare Green Star ratings tool and NABERs is working on developing a ratings tool for the sector, with a NSW pilot tool just completed.

But as Green Star executive director Robin Mellon told The Fifth Estate, healthcare is not an easy sector in which to effect change and there has not been a certification completed in the sector to date.

“Response to the Green Star tool has been quite slow. We’re not surprised by that – healthcare is a very slow ship to turn,” says Mellon.

“But there is general recognition that healthcare is very materials, water and energy hungry and uptake [of the Green Star tool] has been better over the last few months.”

Facilities of varying size from major hospitals to general practice super clinics were showing interest with 15 currently looking at getting certification.

“There is increasing recognition that for healthcare facilities to be more sustainable doesn’t require all the latest technology. There was a fear of this at first but it is good passive design that we are really looking for.

“Some of the older buildings actually have this – with verandahs all around to provide shading and good ventilation and natural light,” says Mellon.

The Green Star Healthcare V1 ratings tool has eight categories for assessment. These include management, indoor environment quality (IEQ), energy, transport, water, materials, land use and ecology, and emissions. Energy has the highest weighting with 24 per cent of points available, followed by IEQ with 20 per cent and then water 12 to 15 per cent depending in which State the facility is located.

According to Dr Paul Bannister, managing director of energy consultancy Exergy, which has been working on the NABERS healthcare pilot ratings tool, a key factor holding back hospitals from addressing energy consumption is that energy is a very small part of their total running costs – sometimes as low as 0.8 per cent. This is despite the fact that they can use up to10 times as much energy per square metre than commercial offices, says Bannister.

“Hospitals are very expensive places to run and they are always short of funds. When they have any they are more likely to spend it on their main priorities such as getting more beds,” says Bannister.

Another barrier to change is the institutional nature of the sector.

“When the NSW government policy was to reduce energy use by 25 per cent a few years ago nothing like that was achieved. They tried to introduce energy performance contracts and the healthcare sector was a big focus of these. Some were successful and a number went ahead but in the end they got very watered down.

“This is largely because hospitals are not driven by the usual commercial incentives such as client or tenant demands,” says Bannister.

Infrastructure in the sector is also often very outdated, with 50 year old chillers not uncommon. And co- or tri-generation plants, often hailed as the perfect solution for hospitals because of their 24 hour demand for power, is not necessarily the right answer, says Bannister.

“Hospitals can be places where co-generation or tri-generation works well but it can also be spectacularly inappropriate if there is not a large enough load. There is quite a history of white elephants plants out there. These plants also require a lot of maintenance and are very attention-seeking projects from an engineering perspective. And hospital engineers are very thinly spread – they are always on a knife-edge, with very difficult jobs. I have a lot of sympathy for them,” says Bannister.

Where progress has been made in recent years is water conservation. But on the energy side things have remained stagnant with little movement for the past decade, says Bannister. Much more could be done to improve end use efficiency through better lighting systems, replacement of chillers and better building controls – something which accounts for 25 per cent of the total energy consumption of healthcare facilities.

“What is needed is a big drive from government with more funding and resources. Making facilities run more sustainably requires people internally and externally.

“I’m dubious about the will of government when it comes to sustainability. It is not really being driven very hard and is definitely not being driven in healthcare. There is a massive opportunity if governments would provide the money and resources,” says Bannister.

Paul Megram, Rider Levett Bucknall director based in Queensland, told TFE that with a major expansion of healthcare facilities in Queensland, sustainability was becoming more of a priority.

Hospitals projects in Queensland include redevelopment of the Cairns and Mackay hospitals, construction of the new Gold Coast University Hospital and Queensland Children’s Hospital in Brisbane and expansion of healthcare services in Cairns and Townsville.

“Hospitals run 24/7 and anything that reduces their energy and water consumption will be increasingly important. Sustainable design is becoming a major focus particularly when annual operating costs are 30 per cent of capital costs. Anything that can cut this cost is a major driver in planning and design,” says Megram.

In addition to a reduction in running costs, hospital design increasingly takes into account the reduction of travel distances for staff within the buildings and indoor air quality, both vital for staff wellbeing and productivity.

But despite the awareness of sustainability in new facilities, the emphasis was very much on cost management, not on getting Green Star Points, says Megram.

“The Queensland policy is focused on sustainability and every effort is being made to develop facilities in a sustainable way but they are not chasing Green Star points,” says Megram.

“The private sector has invested in sustainable design partly because of financial payback and partly because of their corporate responsibility. But healthcare needs value for money – health funding is very tight.”

Rider Levett Bucknall does use the Green Star requirements as a guide though, aiming to achieve as much as possible given the cost constraints.

“Indoor environment quality is big in green Star and we’re trying to achieve it. Natural lighting is an aspiration – it’s very difficult to achieve in large buildings with very big floor plates. Natural ventilation is also difficult as there are issues with having windows that can open in hospitals,” says Megram.

Water management has been a big focus in Queensland healthcare facilities. This was particularly true during the worst of the drought years when collection and re-use of water became a key feature. Other areas where advances are being made are the use of low VOC (volatile organic compounds) materials, provision of recycling facilities, more allowance for pedestrians and cyclists and selection of materials based on their embodied energy and lifecycle assessment.

Michael Manikas, associate principal and sustainability leader with Davis Langdon, says both hospitals and universities are showing strong interest in the embodied carbon in their buildings.

Davis Langdon is working with NSW Health to determine embodied carbon in its facilities and is also helping several universities and a healthcare facility get Green Star certification.

The company is currently developing an embodied carbon metrix. It has already determined that it would take 11 to 23 years of operation for healthcare facilities in NSW to produce the same amount of carbon as that embodied in the buildings.

“There is growing interest in embodied carbon. Hospitals are really more concerned with getting more beds than getting Green Star but in NSW especially there is increasing focus on Green Star accreditation. NSW Health is looking first at embodied carbon to build a case for Green Star,” says Manikas.

Doing things such as changing concrete mixes and replacing aluminium with a material that has a bamboo laminated core were making an impact on embodied energy. One building was able to reduce embodied carbon by 17 per cent through changing materials.

And while Green Star doesn’t include points for embodied energy this is not far away. Robin Mellon confirmed that Green Star is moving in this direction.

“There is a lot of work going on in lifecycle analysis. Ideally we would love to see it added to Green Star and would like to see something in place in the next couple of years,” says Mellon.

“It will be great when we can see the operational, construction and materials impact of a building.

“It could be that we have it [embodied carbon] as an either/or choice in materials category. We know we need to keep this sort of approach simple as it scares the pants off people. It needs to be approachable.”

29 June 2010

Associated Press Online
Smart meters alone are not enough to save energy and money, a new study finds.

Significant savings are possible, however, and consumers save more when given information tailored to their use. Programs that focus on energy efficiency and conservation also produced more savings than those that sought to move energy use to off-peak hours.

Those are some of the findings of a review of 57 studies conducted over three decades for the Washington-based American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Smart meters are part of efforts to develop a smart grid that allows communication between power producers, transmitters and end users, enabling conservation and savings when consumers, for example, know how much power costs at different times of the day, and producers can respond better to outages and increases in demand.

Most take advantage of the Internet and other advances in computer and communication technology.

ACEEE Executive Director Steven Nadel said the key is not only the ability to communicate, but what is communicated.

"The more useful, readily understandable and actionable information you can provide, the better," Nadel said. "You don't just want to inundate consumers."

While the most widely used programs are called enhanced billing -- in which information on power pricing is provided in monthly bills or separate mailings -- devices are being developed to provide consumers with more timely information, including desktop orbs that glow different colors during peak and off-peak times, and web portals.

"One of the nice things about the orb is it's a very simple color, you don't have to get out your calculator and say 'So, what does this information mean?' You know green is good and red is bad," Nadel said.

The group said the review found U.S. consumers could cut household electricity use as much as 12 percent and save $35 billion or more over the next 20 years if utilities go beyond smart meter initiatives and include a wide range of energy-use feedback tools.

The study comes as Maryland regulators and Baltimore Gas & Electric struggle over BGE's smart meter proposal, which regulators rejected, saying consumers bore too much of the program's cost for uncertain savings.

The BGE program, which had attracted $200 million in federal stimulus funding, would have been deployed across its entire service area and paid for by the grants and surcharges on customer bills. The program would have involved meters that would have allowed consumers to track their use, but also would have instituted a new pricing plan in which prices rose with demand.

Nadel said smart meters also don't have to come only from the power company.

Google, for example, has a smart meter program that allows consumers to view usage information provided by utility smart meters and energy monitoring devices online. In addition to utility smart meters, companies like TED market devices such as "The Energy Detective" that is installed in home breaker boxes.

John "Skip" Laitner, the ACEEE's director of economic and social analysis, said such technologies are in their infancy.

"We're beginning to see a lot more interest in this field altogether, so who knows what intriguing arrangements or devices or feedback relationships with consumers may emerge," Laitner said.

24 June 2010


Chris Huhne will promise today to put a £90bn domestic energy efficiency programme at the heart of the government's agenda saying that thousands of jobs will be created as 14m houses are given a complete overhaul to drastically cut energy demand, reduce power bills and lower carbon emissions.

New legislation to enable the mass retro-fitting of homes will allow energy companies, local authorities and even high street stores to spend as much as £6,500 insulating millions of Britain's most energy-wasteful homes. The money spent would be claimed back from savings made in bills with householders not having to pay anything directly.

The Energy and Climate Change Secretary will tell today's Economist UK Energy Summit that energy efficiency will help drive economic recovery. "The market is big. There are up to 14m homes in the UK which could benefit. We are working on the package for each home, which could unlock tens of billions of spending over many years.

"Energy saving is the cheapest way of closing the gap between demand and supply, yet it is the Cinderella of the energy ball. At the moment, we may as well be burning £50 notes outside our front doors. We use more energy per home than does Sweden. And the waste from this sector cannot be ignored, because households account for a quarter of all carbon emissions," he will say.

"The Green Deal", which Huhne hopes will be extended to small businesses later, will be the Department of Energy's main bill for the first session of parliament.

In an interview with the Guardian, Huhne accepted that the fuel-poor, and those in hard-to-heat homes lacking cavity walls – would need extra help because energy savings alone would not be enough. "We intend to provide that help by refocusing the obligations on energy companies. Local authorities could also join with energy companies to reach those who live in houses that need it most; insulation measures are often cheaper if implemented a street at a time. And we are planning to strengthen the government's powers to target energy insulation measures on the highest priority cases", he said.

The government believes that the initiative will largely be in the hands of private sector companies but not necessarily just traditional energy firms such as British Gas or EDF. "A competitive market will provide best value and confidence in products for the customer. With professional marketing from trusted brands, we ought to make energy efficiency as attractive as broadband or satellite TV," said Huhne.

"And the Green Deal – by tying energy saving to the people who pay the energy bills – will be a breakthrough not just for owners but for tenants as well. We are also looking at whether it could apply to businesses. To sustain the market on the long march to a comprehensive refit of our housing stock, we are looking at triggers and incentives to encourage demand."

The UK also needed investment in its energy generating infrastructure, Huhne said, about £200bn in the next 10 years. "There is a massive need to replace assets, old coal plants and nuclear stations. The great prize for us as a society is that we can move to a position where we are much less threatened by geopolitics and price hikes. Investing in renewables will insulate the economy," he said.

But Huhne, a Liberal Democrat who has dismissed nuclear power as a "dead end", warned the nuclear industry that there would be no subsidies for its power and that there would have to be proper accounting of its costs. He rejected claims by independent analysts this week that government would subsidise the industry by leaving the public to pick up much of the bill for handling the nuclear waste.

"Absolutely not. There has got to be a proper asking of what the real costs [of nuclear] are. The truth is what nuclear operators want is certainty and these [costs] are relatively small," he said. The Conservative-LibDem coalition agreement makes a commitment to a new fleet of nuclear power stations, while allowing LibDems to oppose the plan.

Hunhe also saw a role for coal in electricity generation – albeit through cleaner power stations equipped with carbon capture and storage mechanisms that bury pollution underground, which has been derided by some as untested, expensive and unsafe.

"An absolutely key low carbon source is going to be carbon capture and storage from coal and possibly gas because we will need 'swing' production. The great thing about wind is that once it is up and running – especially onshore – it is extremely economical but is intermittent and raises that nightmare of the calm cold winter day when there is absolutely no wind but everyone wants their heating on.

"In those circumstances you need swing capacity to meet peak demand and realistically I can't see that coming from anywhere else except carbon capture and storage from coal and gas."

30 June 2010

The Charlotte Observer, USA
Duke Energy will ontinue its smart-grid experiment in south Charlotte with a new Cisco energy management system, it said Tuesday.

Duke recently won the N.C. Utilities Commission's approval to extend the pilot project for a year. About 100 households are testing systems that let them monitor and tweak their home-energy use.

The ability to fine-tune energy use is a hallmark of smart grid, which uses digital technology to improve power delivery and help customers save money on their electricity bills.

Some Charlotte participants said the monitoring systems are too complicated, said Duke spokeswoman Paige Layne. Last year's cool summer also reduced chances to test the systems in typical conditions.

Duke will use Cisco's Home Energy Management Solution this summer with customers in Charlotte and Cincinnati.

The system features a countertop display that lets consumers adjust their energy use based on real-time data, past energy use and individual appliance power use.

The companies will also collaborate with makers of household appliances to develop products that will connect to the Cisco system.

As part of its smart-grid pilot project, Duke installed an array of 213 solar panels last year at a substation on Pineville-Matthews Road.

The electricity can be sent directly to distribution lines or charge a massive, 500-kilowatt storage battery to help stabilize power availability at times of high demand. 


24 June 2010

ABC Online

Landlords will soon have to disclose the energy efficiency of buildings to potential tenants or buyers.

Federal Parliament has passed new laws today which mean from July 1 anyone leasing or buying a property in a commercial building must be provided with a current energy efficiency certificate.

Energy Efficiency Council chief executive Rob Murray-Leach says it is one of the most important pieces of environmental legislation in Australia because it puts power in the hands of consumers.

"Suddenly tenants are going to be able to understand the quality of the buildings they move into," he said.

"This is a critical piece of infrastructure and legislation and that was originally proposed in 2004 under the Howard Government, but Labor's done a huge amount of work to really develop this policy and bring it forward."