Columbus Regional Hospital is saving $40,000 annually through projects that range from more energy-efficient light bulbs in parking lot light fixtures to sensors that automatically turn off lights when rooms are unoccupied.
For the hospital, the changes herald the arrival of a cultural change to focus on efficiency in all aspects of business operations.
Energy costs present a challenge to the hospital, where annual electric costs alone exceed $1 million, according to Dave Lenart, director of facilities and materials management. Natural gas adds about another $300,000 to the hospital’s annual utility expenses.
CRH has set what Lenart called an ambitious goal of reducing energy usage by 20 percent during the next three to five years.
For its efforts so far, the hospital was among 17 organizations nationwide — such as BMW, Target and the University of Cincinnati — that Duke Energy recognized with its 2012 Power Partner award.
Lenart said CRH has implemented changes at the hospital and its tech center near the airport. For example, the organization is using lower wattage light bulbs in parking lots while maintaining the same brightness. For the lobby at the tech center, CRH optimized the timer to alter temperatures depending on whether the building is occupied.
After the flood of 2008, the hospital compared its energy usage to that of competitors. While it performed better than average, it was not among the best, Lenart said. Changes started being made in 2011 and 2012.
Beyond reducing its energy bills, CRH wants to focus on providing the best care at the lowest possible cost, Lenart said. Any savings improve care and/or save patients money.
Julie Orben, large business account manager at Duke, who submitted the award application for CRH, said the hospital asked Duke for assistance in trying to cut energy costs. The hospital analyzes energy usage in all areas and tries to determine how to make changes to save costs.
CRH also is working on a long-term plan to ingrain efficiency in its culture so that people understand that they all play a role, even if that role includes just turning off the lights when they leave a room, Orben said. The hospital ultimately wants to be a best-practice industry leader, giving others a chance come to visit the hospital to see how leaders accomplished their goals.
While it may seem counterintuitive for an electric utility to help its customers be more efficient — and purchase less power — Duke is supporting the efforts because state regulators are requiring that utilities provide power that is affordable, reliable and clean.
“We consider energy efficiency to be that fifth fuel” after coal, hydro-electric, nuclear and renewables, said Lew Middleton, a Duke spokesman.
Energy efficiency also saves customers money. It saves Duke from building expensive power plants, for which the cost gets passed on to customers. The North Carolina-based utility’s latest Indiana plant, in Edwardsport, has a $3.5 billion price tag, which is expected to raise raise customers’ bills about 15 percent by early 2014.
Such plants have to be approved by regulators, who could reject a plant, for example, if they felt that the company had not made enough of an effort to reduce consumption.
State regulators in 2009 required that utilities in Indiana achieve annual energy savings of 2 percent compared to a prior three-year average, adjusting for weather. Utilities have to meet interim goals in each year before 2019. The goal for 2012 was a 0.7 percent reduction. The goal for this year is 0.9 percent.
At the time, Indiana ranked 22nd among the 50 states in terms of energy savings as a percentage of utility sales, according to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. Indiana ranked 31st in the amount it spends on energy-efficiency initiatives.
Middleton also said that being a leader in energy efficiency can boost economic development. When companies look at where they want to build their next manufacturing plant, for example, they are more likely to choose Indiana over neighboring states if the Hoosier State has a track record of helping companies save money through energy
Columbus Regional Hospital, meanwhile, is analyzing heating and cooling water systems, as well as software that runs the systems, to further reduce energy costs, Lenart said. For energy projects to be considered, they must generate net savings within five years.
Lenart said he has high hopes for the development of a system that constantly checks whether the hospital is using only the energy it needs — and adjust controls accordingly if needed. Hospital personnel are working with Duke to design such a system.
Orben summarized the symbiotic relationship between the utility and its customers in a succinct mantra: “If they’re successful, we’re successful.”