Hospital trust cuts energy bills

Managing the energy footprint of a hospital trust is a role encompassing elements of the work of energy managers from many industries and needs a certain type of person to pull it all together.

One such person is Bill Dickson, energy manager at the Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust in Harlow Essex, which serves a total population of 258,000.

Hospitals have to cope with public service pressures, accommodating people 24 hours a day, a large and varied number of staff and, of course, do all this to health guidelines.

Click on the play icon below to see Bill at work.

The hospital, which is in the north-west of Essex and not too far from the M25, has a bit of a celebrity past having featured in Stanley Kubrick’s hugely controversial film A Clockwork Orange, which used the Arkwright Ward for some scenes.

But, unlike the film Bill doesn’t need to use any aversion therapy to get energy savings to the top of the hospital’s boardroom agenda.

Bill, who is relatively new to energy management, has an employment background which includes spells in the army, as a warehouse manager and a transport manager, before joining the hospital in 2007 in his current role.

However, this vital experience has meant Bill has brought with him a wider view of industry and a willingness to embrace different technologies as well as learn more about sustainability.

“I had an informal chat with the hospital and said I was willing to learn more and I already had a huge interest in energy savings and sustainability”, said Bill.

“Then I took the job in 2007 when energy management was a big priority for the NHS, but also at a time before the recession when funding was much easier to come by.

“Now it’s a different picture with cuts, which all public sector bodies are facing, coming in and having to look around and get in early to get hold of funding.”

On the funding front Bill has certainly put his money where his mouth is, making the hospital trust one of only 16 in the country to have achieved the Carbon Trust Standard for its work on reducing emissions.

He’s also pushed solar power too having installed what is believed to be the largest array of solar panels currently on any National Health Service (NHS) building.

Bill initiated the solar scheme as part of a learning curve for the trust which was driven by rising energy costs, which had forecast the hospital’s bills rising from £1 million a year to £1.5 million.

Part of Bill’s day-to-day job is to source external funding and it was down to him that a grant of nearly £400,000 from the Department of Health’s energy fund in 2007, not long after he took on the role, meant the work could go ahead.

The solar panels, are solar thermal collectors not photovoltaic, which use the sun’s heat to supplement the running costs of heating water away from the hospitals boilers.

They work well, but do slow down on overcast days, but so far Bill’s been pleased with the 50% reduction in the number of times the hospital’s needed to fire up the boilers to heat the water to the necessary HTM-04-01 code.

The code makes sure hospitals stay clear of bacterial outbreaks, like legionella, which is always in health chiefs minds as the nearby, but totally unconnected, Basildon hospital had an outbreak in January last year.

However, despite these, and many other, initiatives Bill has been left frustrated that two severe winters in a row and the rising costs of utilities have added costs to his energy bills over the past two years.

“It has been immensely frustrating”, says Bill: “Over the last year to see many of our wider energy saving efforts wiped out by the rises we have seen in gas, energy and oil.

“However, it’s obvious that had we not taken these steps we would be facing gigantic bills by now and would not have made any impact on our carbon footprint.”

But, it’s not just technology that Bill is working with it’s also a building stock that is both modern and cutting edge while also having a number of older more run down section.

Bill explains: “The hospital’s senior management have always been very forward thinking on energy management and reducing our carbon footprint.

“As healthcare providers it’s very important to do this and obviously from a cost savings basis it makes complete sense.

“The NHS recently has come around to carbon reduction recently and wants to get its whole house in order, so the backing is there all the way to the top.”

Bill has also installed LEDs in wards and is currently trialling some Armadillo LEDs in one ward and monitoring the savings he gets from that.

There’s also a lot of retrofitting and making savings where you can from the hospital’s mix of new and ageing building stock.

For instance in one area during colder months masking tape was used instead of double glazing, which was obviously very time intense to install and not a long term solution.

Bill explains: “In one of the blocks each winter they used to go around with masking tape to seal up the windows to keep the heat in.

“This obviously is not the ideal way of working and I put forward the case for double glazing the windows last year and we’re seeing the benefits in staff time and energy savings now.”

Apart from the energy reduction initiatives he’s installed Bill is increasingly frustrated by the Government’s lack of direction on legislation – a fact that has been enforced since the CRC became little more than a green tax on large businesses.

“There’s no encouragement what-so-ever. If it wasn’t for the fact reducing our utility costs obviously saves the trust money it would be hard to justify it to my bosses.

“Everyone here buys into the energy reduction and environmentalism, but you need to invest in a lot of new and different technologies to see those benefits.

“And, that can be the hardest bit convincing people to put funds behind ideas which may not show their saving for years, but if you don’t invest you don’t get.”

Another problem has been the lack of direction on energy savings for buildings, Bill admits he unsure what’s the best system to follow and would like more direction through legislation.

This has led Bill to take an overview of a number of legislations and apply them best to different aspects of the hospital.

But overall he is having success. A fact clearly emphasised by figures showing the trust was spending on average more than £70,000 a month on electricity between November and February in 2009.

And while that was a very cold winter period it was matched by an even colder run up to Christmas last year, which broke records for lowest temperature.

However, while he’s still looking at overall data for the festive period Bill has already found his electricity bill fell to £56,000 for November last year.

Bill, also in November, worked with PowerPerfector to install voltage optimisation equipment at the hospital and has plans for a second one later this year.

“It’s a real shame about the freezing weather and it’s going to skew our figures for December as we would have used a lot more energy than normal.

“But, energy savings have been made however, because of price increases and the severe weather they’re not showing as much as they should be, however we’d be facing huge rises if we hadn’t acted when we did.”

Luke Walsh

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