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Elective energy – Hospitals take independent path to power

By   /   Sunday, June 28th, 2009  /   Comments Off on Elective energy – Hospitals take independent path to power

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With healthcare costs rising at double-digit rates, the gap simply can’t be closed with one or two big ideas alone. But some Central Coast medical campuses are doing their part to generate small savings through energy efficiency.

Two area hospitals, Marian Medical Center in Santa Maria and Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara, have taken steps way beyond replacing light bulbs or adding insulation. They’ve actually built new on-site power plants that will save them hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Marian has started generating electricity by harnessing the energy of decomposing garbage, a process known as co-generation. The process provides for all but 50 kilowatts of the energy necessary to power the hospital.

Craig Miller, Marian’s vice president of professional services, said the project “truly is a win-win initiative.”

“The community and the environment are benefiting through decreased carbon dioxide emissions, Marian is achieving energy and financial savings, and the city of Santa Maria is making use of and receiving revenue for an otherwise unused, potentially toxic resource,” said Miller, who also acts as project manager.

Marian is now one of only a handful of healthcare facilities in the nation to be powered by co-generated energy. Its energy plant converts methane — the product of decomposition — into clean electrical energy.

The system works by capturing toxic methane gas buildup from the Santa Maria Municipal Landfill and piping it to a plant on the hospital campus, where it is converted. Marian’s annual electrical cost savings are estimated to be nearly $350,000.

Miller said he hopes Marian can serve as a role model for other organizations, since the hospital has demonstrated that projects like this have both ecological benefits and financial incentives — something Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital discovered when a critical portion of the new medical facility came online last year.

Its energy center is providing power to the hospital during the construction of the expanded campus. What looks like a Spanish Colonial Revival at Bath and Pueblo streets actually houses massive chillers, boilers and generators.

Maria Zate, manager of marketing and public affairs for Cottage Health System, said the plant is the largest of its kind in Santa Barbara County. It’s twice as efficient as the former power plant on Junipero Street, which is being demolished.

The fire-resistant 29,000-square-foot center contains the distribution hubs for all steam, electrical power, medical gases and chilled water to serve the needs of patients, visitors, staff, physicians and volunteers. That could be as many as 2,000 people on any given day.

Three separate boilers create steam, which is used to heat the hospital, sterilize surgical instruments, provide hot water and power a steam chiller. The output from these boilers could heat 260 homes averaging 2,000 square feet apiece. The boilers, fired by natural gas, can also use fuel oil in an emergency.

Two water chillers distribute cooled water to the hospital to create air conditioning. One of these chillers is powered by steam, allowing the hospital to be off the Edison electric grid at peak times, saving the hospital money and leaving more electricity for other Edison users.

Electricity is fed to the energy center through two separate Edison grids, giving Cottage the option to switch should a regional grid undergo a problem, as in the recent fires.

The hospital doesn’t stop there when it comes to emergency preparedness. Four diesel emergency generators can provide backup in case of an electrical outage, and a 24-foot-long natural gas train of seismic valves and meters monitors the distribution of gas to the hospital.

While that might sound like a lot for the hospital to coordinate while it’s saving lives, an automated management system provides total integration of utilities throughout the hospital. Engineers can track data, trends and usage on-site or by remote access.

From the very beginning, careful attention was paid to the design and location of the energy center. The site was deeply excavated both to reduce noise and to contain the 60-foot tall facility in one compact space without exceeding city height limits.

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