Curbing carbon emissions with efficient and renewable energy

May 8, 2024 Providence Environmental Stewardship


In this article:

  • Energy use accounts for a significant part of hospitals’ carbon emissions. Much of this energy use comes from heating and cooling facilities.

  • As part of its WE ACT framework, Providence is working to curb its energy usage and convert, wherever possible, to renewable electricity sources.

  • Providence is actively measuring its energy spending through an innovative dashboard and identifying opportunities to cut down energy use throughout the system.

The health care industry accounts for 10% of energy consumption among commercial and institutional facilities nationwide. Providence is no exception: Thermal energy, powered by natural gas and fossil fuels, accounts for over 44% of Providence’s Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions. When combined with the air conditioning and ventilation used to cool and clean the air in hospitals and clinics, these activities account for 60% of energy use in Providence facilities. Electrical energy – which powers lighting and medical equipment – has also increased as the “plug load” of diagnostic equipment, computers and medical devices has grown. Hospitals also use energy in less obvious ways, like steam that powers sterilization of tools and natural gas for cooking.

Energy and water use is the “E” of the WE ACT framework, which organizes, mobilizes, tracks and reports emission reduction efforts across the organization in an effort to battle the impacts of climate change. This framework also tracks waste, agriculture, food, chemicals and transportation. As part of this broader journey toward carbon-negative health care, the environmental stewardship team is working to find big opportunities for improving energy usage across the system as it moves toward an ambitious goal of relying on a 100% renewable electricity supply by 2030.

“Energy efficiency is one of the things we can do to lower our carbon footprint as an organization, but it also takes loads off stressed power grids,” says Geoff Glass, senior manager, energy and sustainability for Providence Real Estate and Strategy Operations. “We can conserve energy, and with an aggressive carbon reduction goal, we can make those differences ourselves.”

Setting energy use benchmarks

Moving toward energy efficiency first meant understanding energy usage through powerful measurement tools. To do that, Providence tracks energy and water data through a partnership with Schneider Electric, which collects cost and usage data from energy and water invoices.

This information is then pulled into Providence’s WE ACT Scorecard which allows the environmental stewardship and facility management teams to view energy and water use and carbon dioxide emissions for each Providence facility each month.

“We’ve set the targets and know where all of our facilities stand with their energy use,” says Glass. “Now, we are working on reductions. Energy is expensive – a single hospital may have electricity bills over $6 million a year – but we saved more than $1.5 million and reduced energy usage by 1.3% across our system last year as we propelled these efforts forward.”

Improving energy use at the local level

While there are broad efforts that Providence can support throughout the organization, energy efficiency initiatives are best addressed by local experts who know the buildings well. For example, four hospitals – Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center, Swedish Issaquah Campus, Providence St. Peter Hospital and Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Polson, Montana – run entirely on clean energy from hydroelectric power and other resources.

That led the environmental stewardship team to conduct a series of “energy and water assessments” to find key efficiency opportunities at local facilities. These assessments include audits of facilities and evaluations of energy consumption, which leads to a list of energy projects that each facility can take on to improve its efficiency.

These efforts have led to several ministries making remarkable progress in reducing energy and water use at the local level. That includes renewable electricity sourcing in Washington, Oregon and Texas. For example, Providence Centralia Medical Center recently installed the largest solar array on any hospital in Washington state. These panels are expected to reduce carbon emissions by 70,000 pounds per year and save about $13,000 annually in electricity costs. In Texas, Covenant Medical Center renovated its central utility plant by consolidating older equipment with newer high-efficiency models, thereby improving its efficiency.

Curbing energy use across the system

For areas where renewable energy is not as readily available, Providence is working to purchase renewable electricity credits through an approach called a virtual power purchasing agreement. Already, 16% of Providence’s electricity used system-wide comes from renewable energy through these types of credits.

Beyond renewable energy technology, Providence is also reducing its energy use to ease the electricity burden in the first place. For example, the system is supporting large-scale LED lighting retrofits across ministries – an effort that has a proven return on investment. These projects are necessary in places like California, Washington and Oregon because of new regulations barring fluorescent light sales.

Providence is also working on large-scale efficiency efforts, including projects to control heating and cooling systems in medical office buildings based on occupancy schedules. This scheduling means these systems can turn off when the buildings aren’t in use, significantly curbing energy usage.

“It’s important for health care facilities to be energy efficient because energy is expensive,” says Glass. “The typical hospital has an opportunity to save 20-30% of its energy by moving to an efficient state. That’s a massive cost savings that can be reinvested in clinical services, equipment and care for the uninsured.”

Contributing caregiver

Geoff Glass is the senior manager, energy and sustainability for Providence Real Estate and Strategy Operations.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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