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Energy efficiency in healthcare

With an annual energy bill of over £500m, the motivation for the National Health Service to look at how energy efficiency can be improved is clear 
Keith Wyatt
Chief Operating Officer
Premium Lighting Solutions,
Cornwall, UK
Now is the time for hospitals to examine their energy output and to explore the potential for efficiencies. The NHS already has a staggering energy bill, and this looks set to continue with the increased use of specialist medical equipment which is very often powered by electricity. In addition, the 24-hour nature of the health service means that energy usage (and therefore potential for wastage) is higher than many other industries. The NHS Carbon Reduction Strategy has called for a 10% reduction of the energy output of the NHS before 2015 (based on 2008 levels), but this is looking unlikely (the NHS was still 4.6% off the target at the start of 2013).(1) At a time when the NHS is dealing with the effects of serving a growing – and increasingly ageing – population on squeezed budgets, savings from energy efficiency represent an easy win.
Perhaps it is these factors that have contributed to the realisation in the healthcare sector that energy efficiency is an issue that needs to be urgently addressed. If hospitals in America are any indication, hospital management are starting to explore the options. In a recent survey of decision-makers for healthcare buildings in North America, 58% of respondents said that energy management was very or extremely important to their organisation, and 62% indicated that they planned to make capital investments in energy efficiency over the next 12 months.(2)
Given that lighting can account for over 35% of the electricity used in a typical hospital,3 modernised lighting can play a huge part in energy efficiency. In recent years, huge advances have been made in lighting technology for hospitals, making the adoption of energy efficient solutions more realistic. 
Because of the nature in which they operate, hospitals have very specific lighting requirements. For example, the lighting often needs to be reliably available 24/7. Maintenance of fittings needs to be kept to a minimum, and when maintenance is carried out, it must be with minimal disruption and within the shortest possible timeframes. 
In addition, the quality of the light emitted is important, especially in large rooms such as hospitals wards where the light has to serve many patients and staff, whilst simultaneously being good enough for treatments to be carried out. Indeed, research confirms a link between light quality and patient recovery rates. Studies suggest that an improved ward environment sees a reduction in non-operative patient recovery times by 21%.(4)
Hygiene is also of critical importance, and all fittings need to be designed so that they can withstand vigorous cleaning processes and don’t have intricate parts that could harbour bacteria.
More fittings are now coming onto the market that can meet these needs and offer energy efficiency. In particular, LEDs are now becoming more popular amongst hospitals looking to reduce their output. Previously held myths that LEDs necessitate a compromise on light quality in exchange for reduced costs have now been dispelled and many organisations are finding that the same or even better, light output can be achieved using approximately 60% less energy. More generally, as well as being more efficient, LEDs give off a more natural light, making for a more comfortable environment for patients and staff. Colour rendering is also improved when using a quality LED light by PLS.
Specific LED models for the healthcare sector have also been developed. Ultra-thin, waterproof, energy efficient LED panels are one example. These lights are only 10mm thick and can withstand high power jet and pressure washers meaning that they are well suited to a hospital. Similarly, light fittings with motion sensors can be used in some areas where light is not required all the time. We have also produced a night light that dims, this model is ideally suited for 24 hour wards that factor patient sleep while complying to health and safety considerations. 
For many hospitals operating on tight budgets the financing of lighting installations is a potential stumbling block. However, as with technology, new options are now becoming available. In February this year, the Government announced that it would make £50m worth of capital available to fund energy-saving in the sector. It has been calculated that prioritising the fund at a four to five year return on investment would allow the NHS to reinvest savings of up to £12.5m a year on frontline care.(1)
In addition, some lighting solution providers are now offering attractive financing schemes of their own. Shared saving schemes are one such offering. Energy usage from the new installation is compared with that of the original lighting and the new system is paid for from the monthly savings generated. Depending on the scale and type of project, a payment level and term is agreed upon, but the payment is always linked to the energy savings.  No additional up-front investment is required.     
Furthermore, the proposal is written into a Service Level Agreement which also covers maintenance of the lighting for its expected lifespan. This is particularly rewarding for hospitals where reliability of lighting is so important. Using data logging technology, energy usage in real-time can be tracked and compared with previous levels, therefore accurately monitoring the savings that are being made and verifying the payment plan.
The Heart Hospital
One hospital in the UK that has made impressive energy savings through improved lighting solutions is The Heart Hospital in London. Established in 1857, the hospital features state of the art accommodation and equipment and specialises in cardiac treatment. 
The hospital became part of the University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in 2001. As part of the Trust’s commitment to carbon reduction, the Heart Hospital engaged Premium Lighting Solutions to install LED panels and bulkhead fittings into two wards and the nurses’ living quarters. In a busy working hospital, disruption was kept to an absolute minimum to ensure that staff could freely go about their daily duties. A simple retrofit installation replaced outdated lamps with modern, efficient LED alternatives. 
Both staff and patients noticed the improved aesthetics of the light with many commenting on the soft, warm quality. The products used have also dramatically reduced the time and costs required for planned preventative maintenance when compared to traditional lighting options. David Sowoolu, Site and Facilities Service Manager at the UCL Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said of the installation, “PLS have given a virtually maintenance-free solution that has been extremely effective, negating the need to spend time, effort and expense on replacing failed light bulbs, ballasts and fittings.
From a savings perspective, the results have been impressive. Since installing energy efficient lighting, the Heart Hospital has managed to reduce its annual consumption of carbon and electricity in the designated areas by 67%. In addition, the hospital has cut its annual energy bills by £3,197, its CO2 emissions by 14 tonnes and its energy output by 14,985kWh. As Sowoolu added, “Premium Lighting Solutions’ innovative LED technology is making a dramatic impact on sustainability at the Heart Hospital. The LED panels that were installed are delivering a quality of light at a fraction of the energy consumption that was used previously.
Investment in energy efficient lighting has led to long term gains for the Heart Hospital, and these savings can be emulated by other organisations in the healthcare sector. Huge strides have been made in the sophistication of lighting technology in recent years, meaning that there is no reason for hospitals to conclude that appropriate solutions are not available. As a sector that has huge energy usage, healthcare organisations also have the most to gain from investing in energy efficient lighting. Whilst simple steps such as educating staff and labelling light switches can go some way to improve energy efficiency, the output of most healthcare establishments is such that long term investments in energy efficient solutions are also needed to make a significant impact on energy bills. In terms of financing too there are now several options available to hospitals. As the NHS struggles against delivering better care for more patients on a squeezed budget, the savings that energy efficient lighting can achieve represent an obvious win.
  1. Building Better Healthcare. £50m NHS energy efficiency fund launched’. 1 Feb 2013.
  2. Energy Saving Association. Healthcare benefits from energy efficiency investments’ 13 July 2010.
  3. Carbon Trust. Sector overview: Hospitals’. June 2010.
  4. NHS Wales. The architectural healthcare environment and its effects on patient health outcomes, 2003.